Leaders: Criticism won’t faze Salmond

Alex Salmond says he means to keep up the pressure to ensure the UK government delivers on 'more powers'. Picture: PA
Alex Salmond says he means to keep up the pressure to ensure the UK government delivers on 'more powers'. Picture: PA
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ALEX Salmond is a fighter, and his fighting instincts have clearly overcome his disdain for Westminster. It is irony enough that his decision to stand for the SNP in the general election is set to propel him into the London political elite, should he overcome the Liberal Democrat majority in the constituency of Gordon.

That this comes barely three months after he lost the independence referendum campaign only adds to the sense of Mr Salmond being one of the most irrepressible political figures Scotland has ever spawned.

Opponents will take aim at his chutzpah, Mr Salmond having spent his political career trashing the baleful influence of the very institution he now feels compelled to re-join. It is a sign, critics will say, not of one who seeks to make a positive contribution to its affairs but who cannot live outside the limelight it confers.

But this would be shallow criticism of a shrewd political operator. His instant stepping aside from his position as first minister after the referendum defeat did not indicate a retirement from the front line of politics so much as a repositioning for the next phase of battle. And this phase may well prove to be every bit as formidable as his contributions to date.

Mr Salmond says he means to keep up the pressure on Westminster to ensure the UK government delivers on “more powers”. In this, his high-profile presence will prove a challenge, not only for the UK parties, but his own. While he has clearly left the field open at Holyrood for his successor Nicola Sturgeon, it is inevitable that media attention in London will gravitate towards him as the party’s voice. This may also make it difficult for the SNP’s Commons leader Angus Robertson: Mr Salmond is not an obvious second fiddle to anyone.

But these considerations pale before the influence Mr Salmond could be set to deploy if, as seems possible, next year’s general election results in an enlarged SNP presence and a hung parliament.

Mr Salmond has made clear that there will be no deals, formal or informal, with the Conservatives. That is a brave declaration to make before the election is held and voters have expressed their preferences. If the Conservatives were to secure a majority of votes cast in England but Labour’s Ed Miliband was to become prime minister by virtue of SNP support, it is likely that there would be a backlash south of the Border at a time when amicable negotiation would be required over “more powers” for Scotland. And if a strong SNP contingent was to oppose any measures to deal with the UK’s budget deficit and debt, the resulting stalemate could trigger another election by the end of the year.

Fiery fighting in politics is one thing. Buckling down to negotiations to achieve a positive post-referendum deal is quite another. Nevertheless, it is clear that the former first minister eyes a new opportunity. Those who wrote him off three months ago may yet have cause to reconsider.

Film and TV industry needs inquiry

NEWS that an investigation has been ordered into the health of Scotland’s troubled film and TV industry is long overdue and should be welcomed. It follows growing concern that Scotland is lagging major European rivals because of poor funding, a shortage of suitable facilities and a talent drain.

The Scottish Parliament inquiry follows a damning report into the health of the sector. The review will look at industry performance, current levels of support, how to retain key skills in Scotland and what may be hindering potential growth.

The case for a proper studio facility in Scotland has been underlined by the successes in Belfast and Cardiff, where Game of Thrones and Doctor Who are filmed. There is broad agreement that the lack of large-scale studio space has a detrimental effect on the country’s ability to attract big-budget productions, other than for location shooting.

The broader economic contribution of competently managed arts and film is not in doubt – Scotland’s world-leading creative industries support 60,000 jobs and generate £5.2 billion each year for the Scottish economy. They employ more people than the oil and gas sector and contribute more to the economy than life sciences. The creative sector draws on and stimulates other disciplines including visual art, design, theatre, dance, music, literature and production skills.

But the film sector is unlikely to reach its full potential and make significant progress until the air is cleared and a vision, or strategy, is agreed. A full, thorough evidence-driven inquiry should help pave the way for better backing from the national arts agency Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government.