Watching Alex Salmond rail against Nicola Sturgeon for sidetracking the Scottish independence movement with gender identity ideology is both uncanny and oddly nostalgic. Salmond was Sturgeon’s mentor and is largely responsible for putting her in the post she now holds.
For ten magical years between 2004 and 2014, they were the dream team of Scottish politics. Together they wrested control of Holyrood from Labour, lead a nationalist march through the institutions and civil society, and convinced 45 per cent of Scots to vote for secession. They made history and came damn near close to unmaking the United Kingdom.
Now Salmond has scolded his protege in a Burns Supper speech in Dundee that is being touted by people with a limited understanding of Scottish politics as ‘devastating’ to Sturgeon. It is not, but it does make some worthwhile points and it makes them fairly well.
Salmond contrasts his coalition-building approach to independence with Sturgeon’s red-line drawing purism and dalliance with what he regards as fringe political priorities. He hails his work with Catholics, Scots of Asian origin and businesspeople to bring them on board.
There is some self-hagiography here – this is Alex Salmond we’re talking about – but there is a lot of truth in it, too. Nearly half of Scots didn’t wake up on 18 September 2014 and decide to vote Yes for the hell of it. Rather, it was the culmination of years of work by Salmond and others to turn the SNP into the political vehicle of the Scottish people and then to convince those people to embrace the party’s goal of independence. Herculean efforts were put into winning over groups long suspicious of the SNP, some of them with good reason, and building a coalition that could withstand appeals to old loyalties and fading identities.
Without uttering her name, Salmond excoriates his successor’s decision to abandon this approach in favour of aligning the SNP with unpopular policies and minority ideologies:
I thought everybody who wanted to see an independent country understood that you must open your heart and your mind to every part and section of that population.