Tom Peterkin: Time for Sturgeon to rein in Salmond?

When it comes to interviews, Alex Salmond has always had a penchant for going off piste by departing from the bland non-answers favoured by so many politicians.

Alex Salmond has a tendency to go off the beaten track when speaking with journalists. Picture: John Devlin

Every so often, the former first minister will eschew the simple pleasures of a gentle schuss down the nursery slopes and responds to journalistic questions in the manner of a man who prefers to descend a more challenging couloir.

His adventurous spirit means that interviews with Salmond have a tendency to be more exhilarating than those dreary ones where politicians parrot pre-prepared lines.

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It also means that – occasionally – he falls flat on his face.

So it was that he wiped out last year when interviewed by Alastair Campbell and said he admired “certain aspects” of Vladimir Putin.

This week saw him interviewed by the New Statesman magazine. Having gargled some pink champagne to celebrate the publication of his memoirs, Salmond hurled himself down an unmarked run with interesting results.

When asked which historical figure he “identifies with”, Salmond answered: “Nelson Mandela” adding: “Everyone of my generation would answer that.”

His answer did suggest a certain conceit – and adding to the newsworthiness were his comments on how the SNP would react to a hung parliament.

His claims that his party would join forces with Labour to “lock out” the Conservatives by voting down a David Cameron minority government. Unsurprisingly, this impromptu insight into SNP negotiating tactics infuriated the Conservatives who accused Salmond of attempting to sabotage the democratic will of the British people to make Ed Miliband prime minister.

Although Salmond’s approach to a hung parliament would probably play pretty well with his own supporters, one wonders how Nicola Sturgeon feels about his on-the-hoof pronouncements.

Despite handing over the reins to Sturgeon, it was Salmond who was the first to nail the SNP’s colours to the full fiscal autonomy mast after the referendum. Interestingly enough, it was in a newspaper interview that Salmond – not Sturgeon – first outlined the SNP’s post-referendum constitutional strategy.

Since then Sturgeon has taken care to underline that it is she who will be leading SNP negotiations in the event of a hung parliament. Her statement of intent was interpreted as a slap on the wrists for Salmond. Perhaps it is now time for Sturgeon to summon a search and rescue team to guide her predecessor back to the piste.