On this day: Alex Salmond wins SNP leadership battle

On this day in 1990, Alex Salmond defeated Margaret Ewing by 486 votes to 186 to become National Convenor of the Scottish National Party.

Alex Salmond with Margaret Ewing in Sept 1990. Pic by Stan Hunter.

Salmond grasped the leadership battle, triggered by the resignation of Gordon Wilson, just three years after entering the House of Commons as MP for Banff and Buchan.

The 1990 contest is remembered as a divisive battle which pitched two candidates from the left of the party against each others.

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Loyalties were invariably split.

While Ewing was seen as someone could unite the party, there were some concerns within SNP ranks that Salmond’s personality - and not policy - would come to define the party.

Ewing, a former secondary school teacher who died from breast cancer in 2006, was well regarded as a member of one of the SNP’s most prominent families. Her husband Fergus Ewing, currently cabinet secretary for rural economy, is the son of party grandee Winnie Ewing.

She went on to lose the leadership contest despite the backing of key party figures, including Jim Sillars - then a friend and ally of Salmond’s.

Following his victory, Salmond repositioned the party as more socially democratic and pro-European.

While the SNP failed to win the first Holyrood election in 1999 under his leadership, it gained enough seats to become the main opposition.

After a decade as SNP leader, Mr Salmond decided to quit, standing down as an MSP and returning to Westminster.

John Swinney took over but stood down in 2004 following criticism from sections of the party

At first, Salmond declined to re-enter the fray but later made a surprise entry to the race.

“I changed my mind,” Salmond said.

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