Hamish Macdonell: This brand new Scotland is slick and professional


It was no coincidence: Alex Salmond chose the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle and Burns’ Night to launch his consultation on an independence referendum yesterday so he could send out the message that this was about Scotland and nothing else.

From the high, wood-beamed ceiling and the suits of armour in this most impressive of ancient Scottish halls to the lines of verse from Scotland’s national bard which the Scottish First Minister dripped into his speech, everything was designed to impress – and not just the Scots.

There were reporters from China, broadcasters from Spain and bloggers from Russia packed into the hall – all there to find out whether the United Kingdom was about to be broken up.

And because he knew his message would go world-wide, Mr Salmond was most careful too in the impression he gave about his vision for Scotland.

“This is a most prosperous country,” he declared – without pausing to let anybody query that statement.

He quoted Rabbie Burns, he spoke of the history of the Great Hall – the venue for the first recorded meeting of the Scots Parliament 900 years ago - and he spoke of his vision for the future of Scotland as a free, independent, progressive European nation state.

Soon after he started, though, the wind got up – as it tends to do around this rocky outcrop perched high above Scotland’s capital.

The gale started rattling the stained-glass windows and blowing around the grand fireplace behind the First Minister’s back.

“Ah, the winds of change,” Mr Salmond quipped.

In doing so, he both echoed Harold Macmillan’s famous speech of 1960 which heralded the break-up of British colonial Africa but he also showed he is as diligent a student of politics as any leader in these islands.

Apart from his entrance, which was a characteristic 45 minutes late, everything about Mr Salmond’s presentation oozed professionalism.

Every detail seemed to have been considered. The First Minister usually speaks from a lecturn embossed with the website address of the Scottish Government.

Not yesterday. For this big event, even the lecturn had been changed and now bore the web address of the referendum consultation paper – just in case it was picked up by the television cameras.

There was a modern new Saltire logo and everything was branded with the slogan: “Your Scotland, Your Referendum.”

It was slick and professional and it is this, above all, that should worry the UK Government. There may be considerable gaps in the detail of the SNP’s plans for independence but, on the surface at least, they appear unbeatable.