It must have been an easy one to call for Alex Salmond and whoever advises him on the media.
That boy from Buzzfeed wants to do a sesh with you. You know, the touchy-feely web site that does all those funny lists. Ross. Jamie. He did start off the Solero woman business but you came out of that well, gave you a bit of a sexy edge with the younger demographic. Take him round the Palace, give him tea, show him the soft side. That sort of thing.
What could go wrong?
Well, if you’re a died-in-the-wool SNP groupie, nothing.
The glorious result shows a man in his element, a mover and shaker in command of all he surveys, friends to the left, friends to the right, confidant of London cabbies, and recipient of the maternal concern of the catering staff. He bestrides Westminster like a colossus.
Or perhaps more like a self-deluded roly-poly pudding.
Because like all good profiles – and this is good – the true message is not only in what is said but in the sub-text and the spaces in between.
In case you don’t read it that way, here’s some help in translating Eck-speak to what’s really going on. The excellent Jamie Ross text is in italics.
The great man starts modestly.
‘I walked into a restaurant in London two weeks ago, and half the tables clapped when I came in.’
This piece of self-regard needs no commentary to tell you what Salmond thinks of himself. What is fascinating is to jump towards the end of the piece when Ross reveals the only two people his subject gives unconditional praise to. One is Nicola Sturgeon and may be dismissed, not as any judgement on her (although … ) but because he would, wouldn’t he? The other is someone he has compared himself to before – Nelson Mandela. Now go back to that restaurant. Can you imagine Mandela saying ‘I walked into a restaurant in London two weeks ago, and half the tables clapped when I came in’? No. And in that difference lies an essential truth about each of the two men.
People seem to have a tendency to applaud Alex – ‘Once, when I was on Have I Got News for You … the whole audience applauded. Not mimic applause, enthusiastic applause.’ And the fan club is wider than that. He claims to be particularly well-liked by London cabbies … he claims [that] he remains popular in England. And of course ‘I get nothing but Tory and Labour MPs coming up to me to ask me my opinions.’ It’s an echo of the old story of the opening minutes at the Glasgow Empire of Roy Castle’s manic act– a trumpet solo, a tap dance, the trumpet juggled, a burst of song, skidding across the stage to do the splits, the arms outspread for applause. Followed by an eerie silence and a lone voice from the Gods, ‘Jesus Christ, is there no end to this man’s talents?’
To go back to those cabbies, they also exemplify Alex the myth-maker, because they are usually willing to take his Scottish notes. Unlike a hapless pharmacist who served him in North London recently – but he says he didn’t cause a fuss. That’s the essential modesty of the man. Except of course that as someone who’s spent much of his life in and around London he’ll know fine well that Scottish notes are rarely rejected. Still, makes a good story for the punters back home.
There are bigger myths too. He maintains that there was a ‘conspiracy’ against the Yes side last year [and in the EU referendum] the prime minister ‘will cheat, as he did last September.’ And ‘Secret oilfields is not a conspiracy, it’s just a fact.’ This one really is plumbing the depths (sorry) and continues the fantasy whipped up during the independence referendum.
Salmond and the media is telling too.
If he has a natural sympathy with ordinary people he has a devilish nose for toffs and all their ways. He pretends to struggle remembering the editor of The Spectator ‘What’s his name, Fraser Nelson … ’ and explains that the audience on Have I Got News For You applauded him because fellow panellists had taken the mickey out of him – ‘What Ian [Hislop] and Paul [Merton] don’t understand, with their backgrounds, is that audiences love a trier.’ Paul Merton’s background? His dad was a guard on the Tube and he went to a London comprehensive. Coming from a man who studied at that most English and class-conscious of Scottish universities, St Andrews, this is below the belt.
Social media hardly seem to engage him. He confesses to reading a worthy polling web site and dipping into Lallands Peat Worrier, a blog by a lawyer who is also an SNP member. Of the appalling Wings over Scotland he can only manage that it sometimes ‘takes conspiracy theories to the end [nth?] degree’ and is uncomfortable at the decision of Stuart Campbell, the site’s owner, to adopt the persona of a reverend. Uncomfortable? The man’s abusive and foul-mouthed in his various online guises.
If you’re looking for matters of policy and substance in any of this you’ll be disappointed. The nearest we get to that is, first, Salmond, with his decades of experience in trouble-making in parliament, hints there will be more to come. Well, there’s a surprise although since he’s neither leader nor deputy leader of the SNP group in the Commons, it may be a tad presumptuous for him to be the one to say it. Then, second, there’s the EU referendum, where he has proposed ‘a Scottish campaign’ – not, he insists, an SNP campaign [that’ll be right] … to argue a ‘positive case’ for Scotland to remain in the EU. Of course, it should have a ‘non-political figure’ as its leader – although it is plain to see that he also plans a central role for himself.
There’s much more in the profile to marvel at but let’s just finish with a small slip Salmond perpetrates. At one point he tells a story comparing the SNP’s tactics of seeking gradually more powers for Holyrood to the guile of Julius Caesar. That judgement suits me fine. He should just check, for all his guile, what happened to Julius Caesar at the end.
Footnote: If you’re unfamiliar with the Solero saga it’s worth a read.