Indyref2: Will Alex Salmond be a help or hindrance to SNP cause?

Alex Salmond was questioned on his radio show. Picture: John Devlin
Alex Salmond was questioned on his radio show. Picture: John Devlin
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It should be an asset that any other campaigns can only dream of. A successful politician, still popular, who can lend executive experience and advice.

But eyebrows are already being raised at what role Alex Salmond could and should play in the campaign that is expected to kick into gear once a second referendum on independence is called.

Indy Supporters gathered in Ellon

Indy Supporters gathered in Ellon

With that prospect now looking more like a case of when and not if, Salmond’s successor Nicola Sturgeon might be best working out how exactly to keep her mentor in line.

All that leads to the question of exactly how useful the former First Minister can be in overturning the No campaign victory that gave him an uncharacteristic defeat in 2014.

A sore loser?

Alex Salmond doesn’t like losing – possibly because he doesn’t lose very often.

Biographies of the former First Minister often note that he hasn’t lost a personal election since narrowly failing to become Student Council President at St Andrew’s University in the 1970s.

That winning feeling, which Salmond has carried through any number of local and national elections, came to a shuddering end on September 18th 2014.

His initial plea that “One Scotland” would come together to get what is best for the country now seems a distant memory.

Salmond was slammed less than a week after the last referendum for musing that there were other routes to independence, including some that didn’t involve a vote.

The Scottish people were ‘duped’ claims Salmond, referring to a late ‘Vow’ on new powers from Westminster leaders (all three of whom are now gone) that adorned the front page of a Scottish tabloid newspaper.

Despite the promises being deliberately vague, and the Smith Commission substantively enacting them, Salmond has used the ‘Vow’ as something of a crutch to make his defeat somehow easier to handle.

Could the critics who claim Salmond hasn’t been able to accept the 2014 failure have a point? And does that mean he should play less of a role this time round?

Loose lips sink ships

From a warning, to a possibility, to a certainty. In the post-Brexit landscape, Salmond has been far more strident in his language than Nicola Sturgeon.

As Nicola Sturgeon tempers her words and says that while Brexit does represent the material change to Scotland’s circumstance that could trigger a second referendum, nothing is set in stone yet, her predecessor has no such desire to speak diplomatically.

READ MORE: Salmond on the ‘key battleground’ of Indyref2

Even since his return to Westminster, Salmond has wasted no time in hob knobbing with journalists, quaffing pink champagne and holding forth on his favourite subjects.

Sturgeon, who does know that Salmond remains a political heavyweight who could have an impact, would be forgiven for thinking that her old boss would be better seen and not heard.

With friends like these

Another reason that the issue of Salmond’s future role has reared its head once again is his comments just last weekend.

Salmond, unlike Sturgeon, is not bound by the constraints of high office, which typically require the holder to be mindful of where they speak and what they say.

That contrast has rarely been more stark than on Sunday, when Alex Salmond spoke at a ‘Freedom Convoy’ organised by a nascent ‘Yes2’ campaign.

Sturgeon, who as part of the campaign in 2014 that strictly banned ‘the F word’ might have groaned at the image of Salmond atop a children’s slide addressing a crowd that included someone in a saltire-adorned V for Vendetta mask.

Doubling down on his Trump-esque broadsides against the press, Salmond was accused of mimicking the President with a rant about the ‘Yoon Media’ that sparked anger yesterday.

Much like his continued denigration of the BBC, Salmond is in sharp contrast to Sturgeon, who has courted cordial relationships with journalists even among anti-independence outlets.

The A Team

Perhaps restricting the role of Salmond is more of a simple matter of strategy.

The Yes campaign is notable for apparently not having taken any stock of the reasons behind their loss in 2014.

There has been no visible post-mortem. The SNP’s success in the immediate aftermath of the failed push for independence, has, in the eyes of many, negated the need for any examination of just what went wrong two-and-a-half years ago.

To have Salmond assuming anything approaching leadership of an indyref2 campaign is to again ignore the many failings of the campaign that he led in 2014.

A man of Salmond’s talents and continued electoral success is unlikely to be sidelined, even as Nicola Sturgeon looks to build a new consensus for independence.

But to consider him one of the main assets of a new Yes campaign, given his behaviour since 2014, is something that Nicola Sturgeon would be foolish to do.