5 days in the life of: ALEX SALMOND

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MONDAY: Looking forward to a week off from politics. Apart from releasing a New Year message - 1997 to be Scotland's year - I have disciplined myself to doing nothing at all, except celebrate Hogmanay in the proper manner.

In my first year as an MP, I took a phone call on Christmas Day, just as the turkey was coming out of the oven. Two hours later, a constituent had told me about the quality of every harvest in the north-east of Scotland since 1926. I made a lonely old Buchan farmer happy, my wife incensed, and the turkey burnt. Now, I am streetwise enough to get out of the constituency when on holiday, to my home town in Linlithgow.

HOGMANAY: This is my birthday - a distinction which I share with Alex Ferguson, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Anthony Hopkins. I intend to celebrate in style in Edinburgh. Nice of them to throw a party just for me. We set off, and managed to reach the bottom of the drive before slithering to a halt. Our friends in Edinburgh find it incredible that you can be snowed in only 20 miles away. This is usually the attitude in London, but not tonight because even Big Ben has come to a stop. This must be an omen for the coming year.

BBC Scotland now has a fixed menu in the build-up to the bells. First, there are the reminiscences of the richly talented Dorothy Paul. Then there is the biting wit of Only An Excuse, which is a bit like Rory Bremner devoting a show to football impressions. And in the run-up to midnight, Ricky Fulton reviews two decades of his Hogmanay institution, Scotch and Wry.

But incredibly, with 350,000 extras in the capital, some of the best live bands, and snow swirling round Princes Street, BBC Scotland spends three-quarters of its transmission time in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, with David Essex murdering Rabbie Burns in front of around 50 invited guests. They even have a cutaway of the frozen Big Ben to announce the arrival of 1997. I put this bizarre behaviour down to their setback a few years ago, when in a live transmission from Glasgow, Robbie Coltraine was half-way through a joke at midnight and missed the bells. One day, we'll have a real broadcasting organisation for a real country.

NE'ERDAY: I write an article for the Herald newspaper every Wednesday. This is mostly about politics, but occasionally I dabble with normality. The best response I've ever had was for a piece on the Scottish golfer John Panton. Today, in line with my "no politics" resolution, I have written about the disadvantages of being born on Hogmanay, and how it might account for the character flaw of Alex Salmond, Alex Ferguson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, not to mention Hannibal Lecter.

We finally get the car to go, and first foot my family. In the ensuing parties, faither is prevailed upon to sing the Red Flag. He knows every verse, and is word-perfect - more than can be said for Tony Blair.

THURSDAY: I break my "no politics" resolution to do network television interviews on the cold weather. In reality, conditions are much easier than last winter in Scotland, but it's murder in the Home Counties, which have discovered wind chill. I allow myself a wry smile. Last year, Scottish MPs were deluged with constituents who had no electricity for days throughout the holiday period, and burst pipes for days after it.

Not that last winter was normal. One of the Scottish Office's blunders when asked to deal with a crisis was their discovery that the last public information film on burst pipes starred Dr Snoddy of Dr Finlay's Casebook! Let me make one political point for the week. For less than the equivalent of one penny on income tax, our society could ensure that every vulnerable household is protected from the cold throughout the winter. Now that would be a New Year resolution worth keeping.

FRIDAY: It is a scorching 10 degrees in the Western Isles, making it just about the warmest place in Europe. Best news of the week is that the Musselburgh races are likely to beat the freeze tomorrow. Take away politics and golf, and horse-racing would be my favourite pastime. Robin Cook may call himself a racing tipster, but I have a better record - 100 per cent. One horse tipped in the Aberdeen Evening Express, and one winner. And my political forecasts are even better!

Alex Salmond is leader of the Scottish National Party.

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