Alex Salmond (31 December 1954 – ) is a Scottish politician and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). He led the Scottish independence campaign during the referendum of September 2014, where the vote for independence was lost 45% – 55%.
Salmond served as a Scottish MP from 1987-2010. In the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, he became an MSP for Gordon constituency and became the First Minister of Scotland.
Short biography Alex Salmond
Salmond was born in Linlithgow, West Lothian. He attended the local Linlithgow Academy and studied Business Studies at Edinburgh College of Commerce. He then went to the University of St Andrew’s where he gained a 2:2 Joint Honours MA in economics and medieval history.
It was at St Andrew’s that he become involved in Scottish nationalist politics. As a student, he was committed to left-wing Socialist ideals and was a member of the 79 group – a socialist republican organisation within the Scottish Nationalist party. He was briefly banned from the SNP when this left wing group was expelled by the larger SNP party.
In the 1970s, the SNP were a weak minority force within Scottish politics; Scottish elections were still dominated by the traditional British parties of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats.
But, the 1970s, saw a renewed interest in Scottish nationalism, with the discovery of oil fields off the Scottish coast increasing the economic case for independence. However, the movement received a setback in 1979 when a referendum on creating a new Scottish Assembly was defeated because insufficient people turned up to vote yes.
After graduation, he served briefly in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland as an assistant economist. He later moved on to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland where he served as an oil economist.
In 1987, he stood for parliament and successfully defeated the incumbent Conservative MP. This helped his rise through the SNP party ranks; later that year he was voted Deputy Leader of the SNP.
He gained more notoriety in 1987 when he interrupted the speech of Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson. Salmond recounts his piece of ‘mischief making’ with relish
“What I said, although they turned my microphone off, was ‘Poll tax for the poor, tax cuts for the rich, nothing for the National Health Service – an obscenity!’ That was my wee speech,”
He was expelled from the Commons, but gained increased media notoriety.
In 1990, Gordon Wilson stood down as leader of the SNP and Salmond stood against a fellow left winger Margaret Ewing – decisively beating her in the leadership election, 486 to 146.
The 1980s saw growth in the Scottish nationalist case as the government of Mrs Thatcher became deeply unpopular in Scotland. In particular the decision to trial the deeply unpopular ‘Poll Tax’ in Scotland was widely hated. Also, there was growing resentment at the use of tax revenues from Scottish oil. Salmond was fiercely critical of Thatcher’s Conservative government arguing she led a “government of occupation”
Salmond also claimed UK use of oil revenues to be “the greatest act of international larceny since the Spanish stole the Inca gold”.
As leader, Alex Salmond oversaw a gradual increase in the share of the SNP’s vote in general election. In 1997, the SNP increased their number of seats at Westminster from 4 to 6. It also saw a landslide Labour government – who promised to legislate for a devolved Scottish Assembly.
Salmond saw piecemeal devolution as a stepping stone towards the final goal of complete independence. He signed up with Scottish Labour Leader Donald Dewar and Scottish Liberal Democrat Jim Wallace in campaigning for Scottish devolution and a Scottish Parliament. This moderation in his views was criticised by some hardliners within the SNP because some felt devolution was a false goal compared to full independence.
Salmond also moderated his previously socialist ideals, moving the party to a more centre-left viewpoint – seeking to appeal to a broader spectrum of Scottish opinion. He also gained a high profile in London’s media with regular TV appearances and becoming one of the UK’s most recognisable politicians. He made successful appearances on panel shows, such as ‘Have I got News for you’ – A good platform for his quick wit and engaging style. Like Boris Johnson, he became one of few politicians known beyond small political circles
In 1999, he was elected to the Scottish Parliament, but in 2000 he stood down as Party leader after a number of personal disagreements amongst members of the party.
Salmond has been one of the strongest critics of UK foreign policy. He was a lone voice in condemning UK intervention in Serbia in 1999, condemning the action (not authorised by UN resolution) as ‘unpardonable folly’
In 2003, Salmond was one of the most strident critics of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq. He claimed Blair had made a pact with George G. Bush to go to war come what may.’
Leadership of SNP
In 2004, encouraged by grassroots members of the SNP, he returned to the Scottish political fray, announcing he would stand for the SNP leadership. He was elected and went on to return to the Scottish Parliament in the 2007 elections. The election was a triumph for the SNP with the party gaining the most seats and able to form a minority coalition with the Scottish Green Party.
Oil and renewable energy
With a coalition with the Green party, the Salmond has made calls to improve Scottish development of renewable energy and to support action to combat global warming. However, revenues from Scottish oil production remain a key plank of SNP vision for a richer Scotland.
In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP increased their vote and gained an overall majority. This enabled the SNP to call for a referendum on Scottish independence. In October 2012, David Cameron and Salmond signed the Edinburgh agreement which formed the basis for a referendum on Scottish independence to be held on 18 September 2014.
“Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations – however, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better.”
– Alex Salmond BBC
2014 Scottish independence campaign
Salmond sought to reassure English voters that independence would be good for all the UK, often mentioning an old homespun wisdom that after independence:
“England will lose a “surly lodger” and gain a “good neighbour”.
The Yes campaign led by Alex Salmond was widely perceived as being more optimistic and this successful campaign helped to narrow the gap between Yes and No. In the last two months of the campaign, there was a sharp improvement in the Yes vote from 38% of the vote to 48-49%. Salmond led a high profile campaign in which he stressed that Scotland had the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ to become an independent nation. Salmond claimed that independence would enable Scotland to become more economically prosperous. The ‘No’ Campaign criticised Salmond and the SNP for falsely overstating the economic benefits and ignoring the risks of separation.
On the eve of the referendum, Salmond spoke
“What unites us is hope for the future… What inspires us is having the dignity of being an equal nation, and what will drive us tomorrow and in the days that follow, is a passion for a better Scotland.”
However, the final result was a decisive no vote, with 45% voting for an independent Scotland and 55% voting to remain part of the UK.
Salmond conceded defeat and called on the UK government to its commitment to further devolution and called on Scotland to move forward as one nation.
“It is important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country.
“I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland…. I pledge to work constructively in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.” (Salmond concedes defeat at Independent)
Salmond married Moira Salmond in 1981. The couple met in the Scottish Office in the 1970s, when she became his boss; Moira is 15 years older than Alex. They have no children.