At Gleneagles, the outgoing First Minister will be able to relax and reflect on his rather fraught departure from office. Salmond’s accusations of trickery by the UK parties and his suggestion that older Scots who objected to independence were impeding the life chances of the Yes-supporting youth amounted to a rather graceless resignation.
Had the referendum been like the Ryder Cup, it was as if Salmond had just hit a couple out of bounds on the 18th. Having lost the hole and the match, he stormed off, blaming his opponent before slamming his clubs in the boot of the car without pausing to shake hands or buy a drink in the clubhouse.
In contrast, Nicola Sturgeon has started her round with a decent drive down the middle.
Although a triumph of democracy and participation, the referendum has been divisive, and Sturgeon at least had the good grace to recognise that by attempting to strike a more conciliatory note. Her pledge to “unite our nation around a common purpose” to write a new chapter in Scotland’s story was a sensible approach. As was her decision to play an active part in Lord Smith’s Commission for more Holyrood powers. Her acknowledgement that the 1.6 million votes for independence – while “remarkable” – was “not enough” will be of some comfort to No voters, many of whom were alarmed by Salmond’s rhetoric in the aftermath of defeat. There will, however, be unease amongst those who are staunchly No that she refused to rule out plans for another independence referendum in an SNP manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections. But given that the raison d’etre of her party and her political career is independence, she could hardly look her own supporters in the eye if she dismissed the idea of a re-run out of hand.
She did, however, say that she was not “preparing for another referendum” saying that the timing of another independence poll would be determined by the “circumstances and the mood of the public”.
Mercifully, she also finally laid to rest the nonsensical idea that there could be a unilateral declaration of independence. Independence would only happen when the people of Scotland choose that course “in the polling booth”, she said.
Most encouragingly, Sturgeon said she was standing as First Minister for “all of Scotland – not just for those who voted Yes”.
It was a welcome softening of tone as she embarked on the next stage of Scotland’s constitutional journey.