Comment: Sturgeon must handle power behind throne

Alex Salmond has been the one political titan of the post-devolution generation in Scotland. Picture: SNS

Alex Salmond has been the one political titan of the post-devolution generation in Scotland. Picture: SNS

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THE challenge facing Nicola Sturgeon is how to handle a power behind the throne, says Scott Macnab

Alex Salmond has been the one political titan of the post-devolution generation in Scotland. And his re-emergence over the past week, setting out the conditions of a “home rule” post-election deal with Labour, underlines the task Nicola Sturgeon faces to escape her predecessor’s shadow.

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The First Minister’s recent tour of Scotland certainly helped stamp her own identity on to the Scottish public psyche as the country’s new leader. A cabinet reshuffle also swept out the older guard such as Kenny MacAskill and Mike Russell and saw Scotland’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

But Salmond’s legacy was always going to hang heavily on Sturgeon – and the emergence of new Labour leader Jim Murphy already indicates the Nationalists’ main adversary in Scotland will no longer be the limp beast of recent years. Barely a few weeks into the job, Murphy has already established the kind of media profile his predecessor Johann Lamont always struggled to command and he appears intent on making spats with London a hallmark of his leadership. Sound familiar?

Salmond’s intervention last week on post-election talks was nothing startling in itself. But the sheer level of interest the ex-leader was able to command once again underlined the appeal of this politician, viewed by many, particularly south of the Border, as the man who nearly broke up Britain.

The former first minister is likely to be thrust into living rooms on TVs across the country again in the coming few months as he hits the general election campaign trail, seeking a second spell as an MP in the North-east seat of Gordon. If elected, it remains to be seen what Salmond’s role would be in the inflated ranks – if polls are to be believed – of Nationalist MPs in the Commons. The Moray MP Angus Robertson is ostensibly the SNP leader at Westminster but recently installed party deputy leader Stewart Hosie is also among the group. And Salmond’s arrival now looms large. It’s not just Salmond’s near iconic status in Nationalist circles, but the steely authority he has exerted over his party for the past decade which makes a role among back-bench rank and file so hard to imagine.

Salmond’s authority as a leader was always absolute. Even doing the media rounds or attending official functions, his handlers found him notoriously difficult to keep on the short leash which ministerial diaries demand. Ms Sturgeon’s team found themselves bounced into line behind Salmond after last week’s home rule announcement. It all begs an uncomfortable question for Sturgeon: Having been her mentor for the past decade, can she now keep Salmond under control?

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