Leader: A First Minister with pride and passion

Alex Salmond shook up a complacent political class and, for that, we should be grateful. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Alex Salmond shook up a complacent political class and, for that, we should be grateful. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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BY ANY rational measure, Alex Salmond has been a successful First Minister. As he departed from office yesterday, even his fiercest critics should not deny this.

Opposition leaders may have teased Mr Salmond as he gave his final speech as First Minister, they may even have thrown a few jabs, but they were united in recognising the many achievements of a man who has transformed our political landscape.

The Scottish Parliament did not have an easy infancy and early administrations often appeared uncertain about what to do with the powers of devolution.

Mr Salmond had no such hesitancy. With him at the head, two successive SNP governments have been confident and assured, with reputations for competence that those in power rarely achieve.

Beyond Holyrood, Mr Salmond has been a powerful figurehead for Scotland. Opponents (and, whisper it, even some of those in his own party) might believe him to be a little too cocky but it cannot be denied that Mr Salmond has been a tireless advocate for Scotland’s interests.

When Mr Salmond returned for a second stint as SNP leader in 2004 – having first resigned from the position in 2000 – he did so under duress.

His preferred candidate to take over from the departing leader John Swinney was Nicola Sturgeon and, when it became clear that she was not going to win the contest, Mr Salmond stepped in.

A decade ago, Mr Salmond came back to take over the leadership of the SNP with the prime aim of preventing it from returning to its hardcore fundamentalist past under Roseanna Cunningham. That decision led to a revolution in Scottish politics.

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In the early days of the Scottish Parliament, it was all but assumed that the Labour Party would be the largest party in any election. Mr Salmond changed that. When the SNP was at its lowest ebb, he lifted it with the language of hope and determination. That ambitious tone caught the imagination of the electorate, including many of those who did not – and still no do not – share his ambition to see Scotland become independent.

Mr Salmond shook up a complacent political class and, for that, we should be grateful. The shape of politics in Scotland has, in the past ten years, changed almost beyond recognition.

Nobody’s perfect, of course. Mr Salmond has flaws. Opponents may speak of a stubbornness, an arrogance, a refusal to concede a point even when he is demonstrably wrong, and a tendency to bluster his way out of trouble and browbeat opponents.

Alex Salmond did not achieve the referendum success of which he dreamed, but given the impact he has had on Scottish life, the old adage about all political careers ending in failure does not apply. Many opponents will be glad to see him go, perhaps the only true measure of a successful politician.

Bird flu strain no danger to food

THE news that a cull of 6,000 ducks on a farm where a “highly pathogenic” strain of bird flu was found may give cause for concern.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed yesterday that the virus is the same as one recently identified in the Netherlands and Germany and ordered the destruction of the birds.

But while this may seem extreme, it is important to retain a sense of proportion.

The strain of flu found at the farm in Nafferton in East Yorkshire is not H5N1, which has led to human death, but one considered harmless to humans.

It is perfectly understandable that consumers might be worried about this incident. Over recent years, a series of scandals involving aspects of the food preparation chain and a string of outbreaks of disease among livestock have chipped at public confidence in the food we buy. With experts warning that there may be more outbreaks of bird flu to come in the wake of this latest diagnosis, any such consumer insecurity is unlikely to be assuaged.

It would be wrong, however, to let what is happening in East Yorkshire affect our shopping decisions. The actions of Defra staff have been swift and a disease which poses little risk to the general population is being tackled.

For many livestock farmers, this will be a worrying time. Under pressure as never before from supermarket price wars, they can ill afford further public concern about the animals they rear. And so it is important to be clear that turkey and duck on sale in shops is perfectly safe to prepare and eat.

This issue will only develop into a national problem if we allow it to.

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