Sketch: They came to say ‘Cheerio’ to Salmond

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Alex Salmond was clearly of the view that his final appearance at Holyrood’s First Minister’s Questions should be marked by fulsome tributes to his remarkable career.

His opponents, however, took a different view, as they used the occasion to attack the departing First Minister’s record in government.

Alex Salmond heads into his final FMQs as First Minister with deputy Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Hemedia

Alex Salmond heads into his final FMQs as First Minister with deputy Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Hemedia

Salmond’s disappointment at the absence of a heartfelt political eulogy had to be set aside, as he was forced into his default position of delivering withering retorts to scatter all before him.

True to the sort of form, which has marked the past seven years at the Despatch Box, Salmond’s ripostes were quick-witted and cutting.

That he was in for a rumbustious ride was evident when Labour’s stand-in FMQ’s specialist Jackie Baillie’s opener was to ask Salmond to sum himself up in just one word.

“One word seems hardly adequate for that task,” said Salmond, before Baillie made some sarcastic suggestions.

“There are many words that I could have used to describe the First Minister, such as ‘humble’, ‘sensitive’, ‘modest’, ‘meek’ or perhaps even ‘bashful’,” said Baillie to a chorus of boos from the SNP benches.

Baillie stepped up her attack, saying the government’s record in health, justice and education was so woeful that Salmond’s replacement, Nicola Sturgeon, should sack most of his Cabinet, a suggestion that sent a shiver along the front bench.

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The severity of her attack surprised Salmond, who took the view that such an approach on such a historic day was a misjudgment.

“If there is a mood to miss, Jackie Baillie has an unerring ability to miss it,” he said, before hitting back with customary venom.

Salmond said he had been looking back over his tenure as First Minister and noted that over the years Labour had called for the resignation of each one of his Cabinet secretaries.

“The only person it has not called on to resign is me,” Salmond observed, before exclaiming: “And I am the one who is resigning.” With a crescendo of condescension, he added: “Does not that represent the Labour Party’s unerring ability to miss the target on each and every occasion?”

Undaunted, Baillie renewed her attack saying no-one could deny Salmond’s passion or love of Scotland, but the “tragedy” was that he was “so blinkered by his passion for independence” that he had neglected tackling inequality and poverty. “Is it not the case that the First Minister’s real legacy is leaving Scotland more divided than ever?” asked Baillie, before offering her own “final word” to Salmond.

“Cheerio,” she said as she sat down.

If Salmond was to be disappointed at the lack of tributes flowing in his direction, the appearance of Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson in his sights enabled him to pay some of his own.

Davidson, said Salmond, was “undoubtedly the most brilliant political leader in the history of the Scottish Parliament”.

His criteria for that accolade was that she had secured the “monumental triumph” of destroying the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats by entering a Westminster coalition and doing the same to Labour through the Better Together alliance.

Amid all this discordant rancour, it was left to the Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to strike the right note.

He resurrected a famous Salmondism when he recalled the words the SNP politician had gone back on when he returned as party leader a decade ago.

“It has been a long journey since the days of 2004 when Alex Salmond rejected standing for his party’s leadership, saying: ‘If nominated I’ll decline. If drafted I’ll defer. And if elected I’ll resign’. Presiding Officer, can I just check that he is definitely going?”

Salmond reassured MSPs that he was off, a statement that came as some relief to his opponents – not to mention Nicola Sturgeon.

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