Time was when ‘young Alex’ could do no wrong. His mastery of the media north and south of the border was undisputed. His political canniness outwitted all-comers at FMQs. And SNP electoral strategy was required reading for politicos of all stripes.
But now he rocks from one defeat to another. The Decline (we have, admittedly, yet to reach The Fall) began with the SNP’s failure to win Glasgow Council – despite prideful boasts of likely victory beforehand.
Decline gathered pace though with the grandiloquence of the launch of the independence campaign itself. But amongst all the pomp and pageantry of the curious setting of a West Edinburgh cinema park and bowling facility in the shadow of the town’s breweries, the problems for Salmond and his glorious cause were already to be found waiting in the wings: just who was the independence campaign? Just the SNP? Just Alex Salmond? Anyone else? At all?
From there it was just a hop, skip and jump to the more serious questions of independence: to NATO or not to NATO? Will the Bank of, ahem, England set Scottish interest rates? And, whisper it, why would an independent Scotland get to keep Scotland’s oil even as England gets lumped with RBS’s debts? These were big questions. Alex didn’t just lack big answers, often he lacked any realistic answer at all.
Then these problems started creeping in at Holyrood where an increasingly confident Johann Lamont bested Salmond with surprising regularity. Her punches on matters policy and political began to reveal a new side of young Alex (or an old side for those of us that remember pre-devo Alex): tetchy, arrogant and slick – just like all the other greasy old pols). Between the Better Together campaign’s strong launch with its feel-good David Axelrod-esque emphasis on people’s stories, relentlessly upbeat message and tone, and smart use of politicians less as speakers and more as microphone-handlers for the audience, the SNP lost their hold on the momentum of Scottish politics and have since found regaining the initiative to be beyond them.
Then came the Olympics. First there was Salmond’s call for Scots to support the “Scotlympians” – which in the context of a gloriously British Opening Ceremony was a misjudgement of the public’s mood. Now comes the revelation that the Scottish taxpayer is expected to further indulge Alex’s vanity by shelling out £25,000 per day throughout the Olympics for a privately hired ‘Scotland House’on Pall Mall instead of using the regular government facilities of Dover House, just round the corner.
There comes a time in all strategies and political careers at which victories turn into defeats. At which the old tricks are scorned by the gallery that used to cheer for them and the benefit of the doubt goes to the opposition, not the incumbent. That’s what’s happening to Alex Salmond.
2012 has thus far been the story of Alex Salmond’s decline. At this rate of descent his foes can soon look forward to The Fall – coming to an Independence Referendum near you c.2014.