SAL­MOND LURED BY TV LIME­LIGHT

Alex Sal­mond’s evening chat show on a Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda news chan­nel is an­other sign of his in­creas­ing des­per­a­tion to stay rel­e­vant, ac­cord­ing to his un­of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­pher David Tor­rance.

Sunday Mail (UK) - - Opinion -

Lots of se­nior politi­cians find them­selves putting up with trou­ble some pre­de­ces­sors.

Prob­a­bly the most fa­mous was Mar­garet Thatcher’s “back­seat driv­ing” when it came to John Ma­jor, her suc­ces­sor as Prime Min­is­ter. Al­most ev­ery word she ut­tered was in­ter­preted by the me­dia – of­ten cor­rectly – as crit­i­cism.

Since be­com­ing First Min­is­ter three years ago, Ni­cola Stur­geon has had to put up with her own back­seat driver, the ir­re­press­ible Alex Sal­mond. And given his ad­dic­tion to me­dia cov­er­age – he gives “ex­clu­sive” in­ter­views to any­one who’ll lis­ten – she of­ten finds her­self asked for a re­ac­tion.

And given Sal­mond’s ap­par­ent late-life cri­sis, there’s been lots to re­act to, not only ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ism ( which Stur­geon has con­sis­tently re­jected) but his Ed­in­burgh Fringe show ear­lier this year and, more re­cently, his bid to be­come chair­man of the me­dia com­pany who own The Scots­man news­pa­per.

Re­spond­ing to this driz­zle of com­ments and stunts puts Stur­geon, as it did Ma­jor, in a bit of a bind.

Un­equiv­o­cally con­demn­ing their pre­de­ces­sor’s be­hav­iour is dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially when that per­son is still pop­u­lar with their party, but at the same time they have to in­di­cate some sort of dis­plea­sure.

So, the cur­rent First Min­is­ter’s re­sponse to the news that Sal­mond will soon be host­ing an epony­mous weekly chat show on the Krem­lin­backed pro­pa­ganda out­fit, Rus­sia To­day (RT), was a clas­sic of the genre. Af­ter say­ing she was sure Alex’s show would make “in­ter­est­ing view­ing”, Stur­geon said his “choice of chan­nel” wouldn’t have been hers.

Then she put a bit of dis­tance be­tween her­self and Sal­mond (“not cur­rently an elected politi­cian”), re­peated that she’d have ad­vised against RT, and ended with an­other com­pli­ment, say­ing she was sure it would be “an en­ter­tain­ing show”.

Stur­geon knows, of course, that a big chunk of the SNP mem­ber­ship re­gards Sal­mond as some­thing of a folk hero, so diss­ing him com­pletely would risk up­set­ting her own foot sol­diers.

Yet at the same time, the First Min­is­ter has to show she’s in charge and, more to the point, re­alises that her pre­de­ces­sor is a bit of a li­a­bil­ity.

On one level, this is quite sad. It was Sal­mond who men­tored Stur­geon af­ter spot­ting her ob­vi­ous tal­ent in the early 1990s, and with­out his sup­port she prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been unopposed as his suc­ces­sor when he re­signed fol­low­ing the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in Septem­ber 2014.

But in an­other re­spect, Stur­geon’s ca­reer path be­ing so de­pen­dent upon Sal­mond has made her a bit of a pris­oner. She’s been First Min­is­ter for three years now but re­mains some­thing of a pro­tégé, some­one who can’t make Scot­land’s top job com­pletely her own out of def­er­ence to the per­son who helped get her there.

Sal­mond isn’t stupid and must re­alise the dif­fi­cul­ties his be­hav­iour causes the cur­rent First Min­is­ter. Yet there’s lit­tle ob­vi­ous sign he cares very much. Even when in off ice him­self, Sal­mond was (al­most) en­dear­ingly mis­chievous, de­light­ing in push­ing the bound­aries of nor­mal pol­i­tics and up­set­ting his op­po­nents.

That he now reg­u­larly up­sets his own side il­lus­trates the ex­tent of his self-in­dul­gence, which has only got worse fol­low­ing the hu­mil­i­at­ing loss of his House of Com­mons seat ear­lier this year. Since then, Sal­mond’s over- rid­ing aim has been to main­tain the high me­dia pro­file he’s en­joyed for the past three decades.

He doesn’t really need the money – he has five pen­sions and in­come from a weekly ra­dio show – but he does need the at­ten­tion. Like many politi­cians who’ve served in the top job for a long time, they be­come ad­dicted to it.

Noth­ing will ter­rify Sal­mond more than end­ing up ig­nored and con­sid­ered a po­lit­i­cally ir­rel­e­vant yes­ter­day’s man. So that’s what his Rus­sian gig is all about.

And it’s yet an­other joint ven­ture with his for­mer par­lia­men­tary col­league Tas­mina Ahmed-Sheikh, to whom he’s been close for a num­ber of years.

Even more trou­bling for Stur­geon and the SNP will be the like­li­hood that Sal­mond will say or do some­thing else they’re asked to com­ment on al­most ev­ery week, which partly ex­plains why the First Min­is­ter has de­lib­er­ately put a de­gree of dis­tance be­tween them. Dam­age lim­i­ta­tion is the or­der of the day.

Sal­mond, mean­while, says his TV show will have a “re­laxed in­for­mal style”, al­low­ing guests “to ex­press their point of view”. That may be so, but it’s un­likely to have many view­ers in Scot­land or the UK be­yond the for­mer First Min­is­ter’s ad­mit­tedly large fan club.

But it a l so r i sk s be­ing coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. For the first time, fel­low Na­tion­al­ists have crit­i­cised Sal­mond’s move as ill-judged and, as a re­sult, he might find his on­go­ing quest for at­ten­tion is sub­ject to the law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

WARY Ni­cola Stur­geon has dis­tanced her­self from for­mer men­tor

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