Alex Salmond recalls Mortonhall scandal in book

ALEX Salmond has said the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal revealed a “depressing lack of humanity and dereliction of duty”.

Alex Salmond and Fiona Hyslop on the campaign trail in Linlithgow was one of the ex-first minister's 'greatest moments'. Picture: Michael Gillen

Writing in his newly-published diary of last year’s independence referendum campaign, the former first minister also describes how he chaired a Cabinet meeting by Skype from Orkney so he could fulfil a promise to Mortonhall parents that he would personally lead discussion of the Bonomy report prompted by the scandal.

The Evening News revealed in December 2012 how parents were routinely told there would be no remains after the cremation of babies when in fact their ashes were later buried in cardboard boxes in the grounds at Mortonhall.

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In his book The Dream Shall Never Die, Mr Salmond writes that he was on a visit to Kirkwall when the report of Lord Bonomy’s Infant Cremation Commission was due to be published.

Mr Salmond says: “I had promised the parents that I would chair the Cabinet that discussed the report. I was determined to keep my word and therefore I chaired the Cabinet over Skype from Kirkwall Grammar while my colleagues were in Edinburgh.”

The Bonomy report followed a separate investigation by former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini into the scandal.

Mr Salmond continues: “Elish has adopted a model approach and has earned the confidence of the parents affected by Mortonhall, where this depressing lack of humanity and dereliction of duty was discovered.

“If we can apply her comprehensive look across all of Scotland then we might implement Bonomy’s recommendations and secure the information, explanation and apology that the parents are due for their own treatment at the hands of officialdom.

“This would avoid the long process of a public inquiry which can seldom, if ever, provide a satisfactory explanation for individuals as opposed to key investigations of policy.

“What public inquiries do provide, however, is a dripping roast for less than scrupulous legal companies.”

Sport and music stars invited to back independence drive

THE referendum diary details Alex Salmond’s attempts to get famous names to come out in support of the Yes campaign:

Day 77 (August 27): Sean Connery is in a mood of high excitement when I call him – after he has watched the head-to-head (Salmond-Darling) on the BBC.

I had decided to strike while the debating iron was hot and made a series of calls looking for further endorsements and support. Sean would dearly love to make a late appearance in the campaign – and we discuss the possible logistics of that. Sean is always good value, insightful and passionately interested in the progress of the campaign.

Day 78 (August 28): Try to get celebrity endorsements from two key figures in the world of sport and music. Phone Scotland and Celtic captain Scott Brown, pictured, who has developed into a very considerable footballer.

Scott normally wears his heart on his sleeve on and off the pitch and is a Yes supporter. However his contract negotiations with Celtic are at a delicate stage and he is under pressure not to make a political declaration.

Equally sensitive is the call to singer Amy Macdonald, pictured, who just moved to a new record label and is also under pressure not to make a political statement. Amy is a passionate Yes supporter and tells me the proudest moment of her life was belting out Flower of Scotland before a Scotland game at Hampden Park.

Day 79 (August 29): I also meet Tom Farmer, someone for whom I have enormous respect and who carries real authority in the business community. He is on the cusp of a pro-independence declaration. He tells me he has refused all pressure to come out for No. However, he is still swithering about a public declaration for Yes.

‘Margo would have been huge asset to Yes campaign’

INDEPENDENT Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald, who died just a few months before the referendum, would have been “a huge asset” to the Yes campaign, Alex Salmond says.

And he describes how a visit to Margo shortly before she died saw a reconciliation between himself and Margo’s husband Jim Sillars, former deputy leader of the SNP.

The week before the referendum, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions and travelled north to Scotland. In a counter move, the Yes side staged a campaign gathering in Edinburgh’s Piershill Square with the Margomobile. He marched “arm in arm” with Jim Sillars to the specially-converted campaign vehicle which Mr Sillars had been touring across central Scotland.

Mr Salmond writes: “We fell out badly 20 years ago and have barely spoken since. Earlier this year we were reconciled when I went to visit Margo in the last weeks of her debilitating illness.

“Margo would have been a huge asset to the Yes campaign. She was often impossible, but always had a warm humanity and a keen intelligence.

“Jim and I burying the hatchet sends a powerful message. Appearing in front of Margo’s bus makes it all the more poignant.”

Gullane ‘an outstanding traditional course’

GOLF fan Alex Salmond has glowing words for Gullane, the chosen venue for the 2015 Scottish Open.

“It is undoubtedly the right place to play the tournament – a community-orientated club without a whiff of gender discrimination and a flourishing junior section. It also boasts an outstanding traditional course with one of the most breathtaking seascape views of Scotland.”

‘One of the greatest moments of my life’

THE West Lothian-born former First Minister describes addressing a “vast” crowd at an impromptu rally in his native Linlithgow three days before the referendum as a highlight of the campaign.

He writes: “West Lothian politics have been moving strongly in the SNP’s direction under the influence of two of our brightest MSPs, Fiona Hyslop and Angela Constance. We are persuaded by Fiona and her husband, Kenny, to go to Linlithgow Cross, where I address a vast and excited crowd, assembled by Twitter.

“To a person, they believe we have the No campaign on the run. Speaking in my home town under these circumstances is something special. It is one of the greatest moments of my life.”

He also recalls campaigning in Edinburgh towards the end of August, including a visit to the TimeTwisters play centre in Sighthill to highlight the SNP’s childcare plans – where he wound up being interviewed in a ball pit.

“The media turnout is huge and I take off my shoes to go into the soft play area with the kids.

“Such is the press scrum that I do most interviews and dozens of selfies in my socks.”