Mr Salmond's swift return to the spotlight

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The Independent Online

Alex Salmond says it's "good to be back". The new leader of the Scottish National Party might well revel in this remarkably swift return to the political spotlight. It was only four years ago that he quit as leader. And when his successor, John Swinney, resigned earlier this year, he was not even considered initially as a possible replacement.

But if the charismatic Mr Salmond expects the task before him to be as simple as his political comeback, he is mistaken. Since devolution in 1999 the SNP has failed to capitalise on Labour's poor stewardship of the Scottish Parliament. It failed to overtake Labour in this year's European elections. This malaise is due to bad leadership, but also to an existential crisis within the SNP. It is still unsure whether devolution is a step forward to its objective of independence for Scotland, or a sideshow. While it ponders this, the party is slowly slipping into irrelevance.

Mr Salmond must answer these questions and give his party a clear direction in time for expected Westminster elections next year. Oh, and he will have to do this despite not being a member of the Scottish Parliament. Welcome back, Mr Salmond.