Alex Salmond recently joked that if he wanted to destroy Nicola Sturgeon, 'that could have been done'. The former first minister clarified this weekend that he had only meant to point out that he hadn't called for her resignation when asked to by the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish government's handling of allegations against him. But he has quite clearly not reached the end of his plans for revenge against his former protégé.
I interviewed Salmond on Times Radio, and he told me that his current 'disagreement' with the First Minister is that she should be getting on with negotiations for independence. He said:
“'My disagreement is that I think this is the opportunity to push forward with negotiations on independence, while the trumpet is sounding a certain note from Whitehall would strike me as an excellent opportunity.'Now, that doesn't mean that the referendum will be next month, or even in six months' time, because you know it took – let's see, three years from the 2011 result to 2014 to stage a referendum. And it certainly took 18 months of negotiations with Westminster to set it up. But I don't honestly see the argument for not starting the negotiations on the administration, and the referendum or other democratic tests now instead of waiting for some indeterminate period after the pandemic, after the recovery. If you don't start, you'll never finish.'
Salmond is reflecting a view held by some on the SNP side too that Westminster will merely seek to spin out negotiations for as long as possible and that Sturgeon needs to get a move on given there is a pro-independence majority in Holyrood. But the calculation of the First Minister is that there isn't a pro-independence majority in the country: indeed, some polls suggest support for Scottish independence is going backwards.
Even if, as Salmond argues, the length of negotiations will mean a referendum won't happen for a few years once those talks have begun, the mere act of starting them allows Westminster politicians to do what James Forsyth sets out in this post – and paint Sturgeon as being obsessed with the constitution at the expense of the recovery in Scotland. So even if Salmond isn't intent on destroying Sturgeon, he clearly has a lot more revenge to exact.