Saint Andrews is a beautiful town, filled with medieval buildings, incredible coastline, and vast golf links. It is where Britain’s elite families send their intellectually challenged offspring to go get degrees. (Prince Harry met Kate Middleton there). It is most certainly not a bastion of radical politics as I discovered many years ago when standing at a CND stall in the town. The locals were incensed at the presence of peaceniks, with one dearie declaring to the nods of her companions: ‘As long as they have the IRA, we need to keep Trident’.
In the early seventies it was also a hot bed of good nature Maoist intrigue amongst the student body. Top dog amongst the cultural revolution on the links was Alex Salmond who ever since has been known to his opponents (and a few of his admirers), as The Great Helmsman. Whether Wee Eck ever actually swam across (or fell in) the Kinness Burn in emulation of Chairman Mao’s dook in River Yangtze remains a political mystery. What cannot be denied is the man’s incredible resilience and capacity to bounce back even after the worst of defeats.
By 1990 he was the leader of the SNP. During the Decade of Dissent protesters blockaded streets, occupied council offices, defied bailiffs, and in one famous incident anti-nuclear activist (and braw piper) Craig ‘Haggis’ McFarlane swam into Faslane Naval Base and managed to get inside one of the UKs nuclear submarine. The SNP, riven by divisions between progressives and fundamentalists, was incapable of providing leadership or even a coherent strategy. In 2000 Alex Salmond took a scunner to his party, resigned from the leadership and, like Winnie the Pooh, went off to have a long think, think, think. After the disastrous 2003 Scottish Assembly election the Great Helmsman returned, won the leadership in 2004 and began the slow Herculean task of trying to sort out the Scottish National Party in time for the 2007 Scottish election.
Well, we’ve all been there: Trying to get oor weans presentable for first day of the school term; combing their hair and fixing their collars; reminding them to play nice with the other boys and girls; checking the pockets of the oldest for matches and inflammatory materiel; telling the little one at the back not to eat spiders in front of teacher ‘because you know what happened last time’. And then when the children have finally stepped into the school yard you sigh a little and think ‘ah bless’.
So too it was with Alex Salmond as he fashed and footered and pleaded and cajoled the SNP into some form of readiness for the 2007 Scottish Assembly election. The Great Helmsman grandly announced that he was standing for election too, thereby showing his commitment to the devolved parliament (as well as allowing him to keep a beady eye on his charges). The SNP looked good and all its candidates behaved themselves. The hope was for a credible result that would allow the nationalist to begin the slow arduous task of building up the support and credibility needed to eventually take control of the parliament. However, the Scottish electorate had different ideas. To the surprise and dismay of all the political parties, the SNP included, the nationalist woke up the morning after the election to find themselves in power.
The Labour party was as shocked as everyone else. But dismay quickly turned to hope as wiser heads among the comrades realised here was an opportunity to defeat nationalism once and for all. In August of that year Wendy Alexander was elected new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. She declared her intention for confronting the nationalist head on. In a bold move she agreed to accept the SNP challenge for a independence referendum in 2010. In fact, declaring 'Bring it on' she demanded the referendum be held sooner. Given that the SNP were new in office, a premature referendum campaign would have stretched the nationalists capabilities to breaking point. The No side would win a referendum easily. It was a good plan. Unfortunately for Wendy, the UK Labour party had different ideas...
Now read: Part Seventeen. Scandal & intrigue
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
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