WHEN Alex Salmond stood down as first minister and announced that he would standing to become a Member of Parliament again, there was much speculation that the former Scottish National Party leader would prove to be a thorn in the side of his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.
With his love of the limelight, it was inconceivable that Salmond would retreat gracefully into the shadows. And so it has proved. It was Salmond who bounced the SNP into pursuing a full fiscal autonomy settlement before the general election. In those far off days when it was assumed that the SNP could prop up an Ed Miliband government, Mr Salmond said a deal with Labour should be conditional on Scotland having control over all tax and spend – even though the plummeting oil price meant such an arrangement would plunge the country into the red.
Since then Mr Salmond’s utterances have been splashed all over the front pages. The most recent example was on Sunday when he said a second independence referendum was “inevitable” and it was down to Ms Sturgeon when it should be held. That Mr Salmond should take that view is not in the least surprising. But the timing of his remarks – with the summer silly season in full swing and with Ms Sturgeon on her way to China – meant that yet again Mr Salmond hogged the headlines.
Whether Mr Salmond’s pronouncements have undermined Ms Sturgeon is another matter entirely. An influx of independence hardliners have joined the SNP since the referendum. For them, Mr Salmond’s remarks keep the dream alive.
By keeping the constitution on the agenda, the SNP keeps its own people on board.
Talk of putting Scotland through another divisive vote also distracts from the SNP’s domestic record, which after eight years in government leaves a lot to be desired.
Agitating on independence may please those wedded to the cause, but it infuriates those who would like to see something done about poor levels of school attainment and the GP recruitment crisis - not to mention the recent shambolic performance of Police Scotland.
The SNP’s political opponents express these frustrations. But with Labour suffering from a leadership vacuum at a Scottish and UK level and Holyrood in recess, precious little is being done when it comes to holding the SNP to account.
Scrutinising the SNP’s record is the critical task facing whoever out of Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh becomes Labour’s next Scottish leader. There lies the best chance of dampening the neverending referendum chatter.