Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Alex Salmond's gone and suddenly the SNP looks a lot less scary


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What a long time is a day in Scottish politics. At 6.30am Alex Salmond, a little less bullish than usual, of course, as he accepted “the verdict of the people”, was still managing to make it sound if all that the Yes campaign had achieved – record turn-out, a once unthinkable 45 per cent vote for independence, the vow of devo max – were just as good as mere victory would have been.

Then, at 4pm, he was at Bute House in a tartan tie announcing he was off, not humbled of course, but at times – almost– humble. And pulling every heartstring, declaring in a doubtless conscious echo of Ted Kennedy conceding defeat in the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter: “For me, as leader, my time is nearly over, but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream will never die.”

This wasn’t a press conference in the normal sense that pretty well every newspaper can turn up to. Instead, it was an invitation-only affair at which London-based papers – including this one – were not on the list, officially because the “room was too small”. This was nonsense, of course, since presumably the First Minister of Scotland could hire the Usher Hall if he wanted.


There was lot of first-name calling to the – mainly Scottish – reporters. And some, though not all, of the questions were along the lines of: “You got a majority in the Scottish Parliament, you got a referendum, and you got a huge vote for independence, none of which any one thought you ever would get. Would you say you’re an abject failure or have you actually achieved a great deal?”

That said, this was quite a coup de théâtre. True, he took a while to reach the sharp point that he had only decided to resign that morning – or as Sky TV’s Kay Burley kept pithily calling it, “the morning after the No before” – and that he wouldn’t have been standing down “if there had been a Yes vote”.

And while it was hardly possible to believe that this was the same man that had barnstormed Perth Concert Hall at his rally just 48 hours earlier, there were still touches of the pre-referendum Salmond. Especially his accusation that voters who had been persuaded to vote No by Gordon Brown’s promise of a March second reading for a new Scotland Bill would be “incandescent” that the vow was now being “unvowed” by David Cameron.     

But the bounce had gone. Even the face looked somehow more lined than it had in the morning. For all his talk of the future being in the hands of the newly “energised” 1.6 million yes voters, the SNP, having scared the pants off the British political establishment, suddenly looked a lot less scary.