WAR of words with Donald Trump suggests its time Alex Salmond took a backseat, writes Euan McColm
Voltaire said he had only made one prayer to God: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.
God, said the French philosopher, granted his wish.
It would not be surprising to learn that the same prayer had been muttered this week by two great “characters” of politics.
A deliciously petty row between former First Minister Alex Salmond and US presidential hopeful Donald Trump was a highlight of the political week; a piece of pantomime entirely appropriate to the season.
Once upon a time Mr Trump and Mr Salmond were the best of pals. The former FM – as was the case with his predecessor, Labour’s Jack McConnell – had been seduced by the brash tycoon’s big talk about investment and his enthusiasm for his Scottish roots (Trump’s mother was from Lewis).
But these days, Mr Trump is no friend to Mr Salmond or the SNP. Following the businessman’s call for the US border to be closed to Muslims, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stripped Mr Trump of his status as a “GlobalScot” ambassador.
Days after losing this meaningless title, the bestowing of which was an exercise in photo-opportunity creation rather than a serious attempt to stimulate the Scottish economy, Mr Trump was infuriated by the failure of his legal attempt to prevent the erection of offshore wind turbines beside his Aberdeenshire golf course and resort.
Mr Salmond greeted the tycoon’s defeat by describing him as a “three-time loser”. Not only, warned Mr Salmond, would Mr Trump fail to win the support of American Muslims in his quest to become the next US president, but he could kiss goodbye to the support of “American Scots”, too. Whether “American Scots” – by which I assume Mr Salmond means the sort of American who gets kilted up and has a ceilidh once a month in much the same way that certain Scots dress as cowboys and participate in line-dancing – are likely to have noticed the failure of Mr Trump to defeat a legal ruling in Scotland is uncertain, though I’d venture this is not an issue that will make the slightest bit of difference to his prospects of becoming the next occupant of the White House.
But, regardless of the repercussions, this was not a matter Mr Trump was willing to let lie. The businessman was prepared to risk the wrath of “American Scots”, that army of his fellow US citizens that hangs on the every word of Mr Salmond, and issued a statement laying in to the former first minister.
“Does anyone care what this man thinks?” wondered Mr Trump, before describing Mr Salmond as “a has-been and totally irrelevant”. The former FM should go back, advised his former chum, to unveiling “pompous portraits of himself that pander to his already overinflated ego”.
For those of us who enjoy the sight of two ludicrous alpha males trying to out-bluster each other, this was a first-class display.
Messrs Trump and Salmond, of course, are similar creatures, sharing a lack of both self-awareness and self-doubt. It was inevitable that their clash would be nasty.
Mr Trump is a preposterous sort; a buffoon whose willingness to attack minorities and to whip up xenophobic fervour makes the prospect of him ever becoming US President truly horrifying.
But there was a time when Mr Salmond and others at the top of the Scottish Government thought him fine company, indeed.
When Mr Trump promised investment in Scotland and the creation of thousands of jobs (which turned out to be hundreds), politicians couldn’t wait to be seen with him. This is understandable, enough. Politicians are in the business of attracting investment and that makes necessary the odd spot of cosying up to egotistical tycoons.
Mr Trump certainly talked a good game and appeared to have the financial means to make good on his many promises. Had Mr Salmond (or, for that matter, Jack McConnell) given the businessman the cold shoulder when he had cash to spend in Scotland, we might have thought that unwise.
Scotland’s relationship with Mr Trump is, then, an embarrassing fact and Mr Salmond has nothing to gain by picking a fight with his former pal.
There is no rule in politics that says this should be so but the convention that those who have served in the highest office should go on to enjoy lower profiles in the later parts of their careers has much to commend it.
Former prime and first ministers have had their time as the centre of attention. After they leave office they surely owe their successors the space they need to make their own job of leadership.
Mr Salmond is clearly having none of the convention that says he should zip it and let Nicola Sturgeon get on with things.
The former first minister’s row with Mr Trump reminds us that he’s never more comfortable than when he’s in a conflict. An Alex ding-dong with Donald is the stuff of life to him.
It’s been more than a year since Mr Salmond stepped down as first minister and, in that time, he appears to have devoted much of his time to continuing pointless, destructive feuds.
Mr Salmond remains angry with the BBC and the Treasury over what he says was unacceptable behaviour by both during the referendum campaign. Donald Trump is just something else for the former first minister to get angry about. And none of us needs that.
Mr Salmond fancies himself a great statesman but he’s a political street fighter rather than a diplomat. And his run-in with Donald Trump won’t enhance the case that he should be considered a political giant.
Alex Salmond was First Minister of Scotland for seven years. He won two elections, the second by a landslide, and came within a whisker of winning the independence referendum.
Perhaps – those considerable achievements under his belt – it’s time for him to adopt a lower profile. The sight of him rolling around in the dirt with a buffoon is most unseemly.