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.
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