ALEX Salmond’s fiercest critics might have been revelling in his discomfort yesterday, but on the campaign trail in Glasgow the First Minister’s buoyant demeanour betrayed no sign of inner turmoil.
After arguably the most tumultuous week of his political career, in which he was left sullied by abuse from one tycoon and acclaim from another - praise from Rupert Murdoch and a verbal bashing from Donald Trump - Salmond embraced the company of ordinary voters as he took to the streets of Glasgow’s West End to spread the SNP’s message ahead of this week’s local elections.
Over the course of an hour-long walkabout in the most fiercely contested council in Scotland, the focus appeared to switch from his ties with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, although the fact his innumerable aides – a flurry of twentysomethings brandishing yellow rosettes and balloons – were always a few feet ahead to cherrypick candidates for a brief discussion, handshake, and photo opportunity helped steer the First Minister clear of controversy. It was an afternoon given over to grassroots politics, the kind of electioneering in which Salmond excels. Even potentially fraught encounters ended with an easy smile and an endorsement, such as his chat with Michael Porter, a homeless man begging on the busy thoroughfare of Byres Road. “What’s your dug’s name?” the SNP leader enquired, before letting rip a hearty laugh when Porter replied: “Giro.”
Brian Hughes, the chief executive of Kiltr, a social network for Scots and expats, was one of around a dozen people Salmond spoke to. Afterwards Hughes said: “At the end of the day, Alex has to align himself with most businesses that have an impact in Scotland.”
Elsewhere, Salmond waxed lyrical on a range of policy areas, from rudimentary infrastructure projects through to improving direct flights between Scotland and Sicily.
The cosmopolitan nature of Byres Road meant that often, Salmond found himself with foreign nationals, but he gave them his time and attention, discussing the similarities between bagpipe and country music with a native of Tennessee, and engaging with a Swedish visitor about matters Scandinavian.
The First Minister had arrived via a subway train at Hillhead station shortly before 3pm, where he was greeted by a small, yet keen, press pack, eager to hear his account of the week’s events.
Smiling, and occasionally sighing whenever the name of Murdoch arose, he told Scotland on Sunday he would be issuing a full statement to the Leveson Inquiry, and intended to appear in person at the Royal Courts of Justice.
“Folk are interested in the SNP’s positive message about homes and above all, about jobs,” he added. “The events of this week that interest the folk in Glasgow are the 800 jobs at Atlantic Quay which the SNP has focused on.
“Labour are focused on muck, muck, muck, we’re focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, which is why we’ll win on Thursday.”
With that, he scooted out into the mass of balloons, pressing the flesh with activists and candidates in Thursday’s elections, before strolling down Byres Road to meet the public.
It was a low-key engagement, but one which the SNP hope will boost its prospects come polling day.
Should the party emerge victorious in Glasgow, wresting power in a Labour heartland, it will be a triumph rich in symbolism.After the 2003 local government elections, the city returned 71 Labour councillors, and only three from the SNP. The advent of the Single Transferrable Vote system four years later reduced the margin, although Labour still retained an overwhelming majority, with 45 elected members to the SNP’s 22.
Now, however, the SNP smells the blood spilt by Labour’s internecine warfare, which has heralded a flurry of resignations and a splinter group, Glasgow First. “Labour are at the bottom of the barrel and are scraping down so that they nearly fall out,” said Salmond. “They’ve given up basically.”
Those standing for the SNP on Thursday conceded that some party members may have been disquietened by Salmond’s relationship with News Corp’s chief, but stressed that ordinary Scots were preoccupied with other issues.
Gavin Roberts, a teacher and trade unionist who is standing in the Glasgow Canal ward, reasoned: “There will be a few people who will be concerned, but at the end of the day Alex Salmond was acting to save Scottish jobs and bring new jobs to Scotland.
“It takes a long spoon to sup with the devil, as they say, and sometimes it has be done. But I think the electorate are mature and I don’t there’s any question to be asked over whether he was in bed with millionaires.”
After his tour of Byres Road, Salmond made a detour for the Ubiquitous Chip, the famous Glasgow hostelry which had promised him a free pint. He did not take up the offer, but visited the pub and made small-talk with customers. If this truly was the most difficult week of the First Minister’s political life, he must relish the challenges ahead.