Alan Massie: Salmond's triumph brings a whiff of Gaullism

The future of Scotland and the Union itself is now in question after the SNP's triumph in Glasgow East

Share
Related Topics

Two things are clear. First, the Glasgow East by-election was a personal triumph for Alex Salmond, who campaigned relentlessly in the constituency and in the last days spoke of the election as being a choice between Holyrood and Westminster (even though it was of course an election for Westminster). Second, Labour can no longer claim to be the party that best represents Scotland; its rejection at the Scottish Parliament elections a year ago has been confirmed.

Things are going the SNP's way. That much is clear. How far the present favourable wind will carry the party is another matter. Certain caveats must be entered. It is arguable that the by-election was as much a rejection of Labour as an endorsement of the SNP. Then the poll was low, with a turnout of only 42 per cent. Moreover the SNP has twice won by-elections in Glasgow, but failed to hold on to the seat at subsequent general elections. Yet this feels different. The SNP is in office in Scotland now. So the result can't simply be dismissed as a protest vote. It was that, certainly, but it was not only that. There's a sense in which any number-crunching we may engage in may be irrelevant.

To understand the nature and significance of the SNP triumph we have to look back. We have to consider why Labour enacted devolution. It did so without initially any great enthusiasm. It was essentially a defensive move. Devolution was supposed to stall the SNP; it has signally failed to do so. But it was also intended to protect Scotland from social policies enacted by Westminster which were thought inimical to the interests and ethos of Scotland. Opposition to Thatcherism inspired Labour's commitment to devolution. It had its origins in timidity. It was an expression, not of confidence in Scotland, but of a lack of confidence.

Mr Salmond doesn't share that lack. Quite the contrary. He is brimful of confidence. His ebullience is infectious, and it is making Labour look a sad, bedraggled lot. This is his first achievement: to have done away with defensiveness and to have persuaded a growing number of Scots that the country is on the march.

The opposition parties, and sceptics in the media, may say it is all a bluff. But, in the year and more since he became First Minister, nobody has come close to finding a way to call the bluff, if bluff it is. Far from it. He speaks with authority as no Labour first minister has done since the parliament came into being in 1999. That authority is often arrogant. When in Glasgow East he declared that an SNP win would be a victory for Scotland; that was arrogant. It was an assumption that one might resent, carrying with it the implication that if you didn't vote SNP, you were less than Scottish or had no confidence in Scotland. But there it is: that's how he presents himself, and how he is persuading others to see him.

He is not so much capturing a new mood as creating one. The SNP has enacted few of its election promises, and has indeed fallen down on a number of them. People don't seem to care. Even many who are reluctant – or not yet ready? – to vote SNP, regard Mr Salmond as an impressive leader. He seduces us by words rather than acts. There's a whiff of Gaullism in Scotland today. Mr Salmond speaks like a man whose hour has come, whose mission is to release Scotland from the constraints that impede her resurrection. It's extraordinary.

Of course the party or movement that he leads still represents only a minority interest, but for the moment anyway he behaves as if he represents the whole of Scotland, even as if he himself is Scotland today.

It may all come crashing down. The most successful area of the economy in recent years – financial services – is in trouble. We may be dragged into a recession. But for the moment at least, he is the man who is making the weather, and the wind he has blown up is in his sails. Can it last? Will it blow Scotland to independence, or will it blow itself out?

Allan Massie is an author and columnist for The Herald in Scotland

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A memorial dedicated to the 52 people that were killed during the 7/7 terror attacks in London is cleaned in London's Hyde Park  

7/7 bombings: We cannot opt out of this fight, hoping that if we hide terrorism will leave us alone

Liz Kendall
 

There are no heroes in the Greek crisis that ended the euro

Steve Richards
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate