Alex Salmond’s widely predicted decision to run for Westminster is a reminder (as if one was needed) that he is a politician with a keen eye for the main chance. It is a decision that is full of contradictions – not least that Salmond is choosing to go back to a parliament he has spent his entire political life attacking.
But with SNP membership swelling after the No vote, Salmond is confident he will win the Gordon seat from the Lib Dems.
Despite the Lib Dems winning a majority of almost 7,000 at the last general election, Salmond is the hot favourite.
Like most politicians who make a significant impact on public life, Salmond has enjoyed a wee bit of luck (what were the chances of the SNP’s cause being boosted by the EuroMillions lottery smiling on two dedicated independence supporters?). When it comes to Gordon, events have conspired in favour of the former first minister.
The retirement of that Liberal stalwart Sir Malcolm Bruce means that Salmond’s main challenger is a relative unknown. Standing in Bruce’s place is Christine Jardine, a former journalist who has yet to build up the sort of local following enjoyed by the politician she is hoping to replace. Furthermore, the Lib Dems themselves are struggling after four years in partnership with the Tories at Westminster.
Salmond himself described the Lib Dems as a “busted flush” and suggested that a more dangerous challenge to his plans would come from the Conservatives. As the consummate political gambler, Salmond will have also noted that the Gordon constituency overlaps with his own Aberdeenshire East seat at Holyrood – a dynamic that will work in his favour.
He will, however, also have weighed up the fact that in the independence referendum the North-east of Scotland came out firmly for No (60.4 per cent No against 39.6 per cent Yes).
Therein lies the most hope for Salmond’s opponents. Already there is talk of the Conservatives and Labour doing their bit to help the Lib Dems.
The former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow has suggested people should vote Lib Dem to keep out Salmond. While there is no formal anti-Salmond pact, Lib Dems believe they will attract Tories and Labourites who are desperate to embarrass Salmond in May next year.
Hence Bruce’s warning there was a “whiff of arrogance” about Salmond’s belief the Gordon seat is for the taking.
Salmond is arguably the most formidable campaigner in the country and therefore remains the most likely winner. But his opponents know that claiming his scalp would be hugely embarrassing for him. For them, there can be no greater motivation.