Salmond: Scottish leader defeated but defiant

  • AFP, Edinburgh
  • Updated: Sep 19, 2014 13:01 IST

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has reasons to be cheerful despite failing to lead his country to independence: he emerges from the campaign with more powers for Scotland coming his way.

A chubby-faced former Royal Bank of Scotland economist with a debonair manner, the 59-year-old has missed out on his lifetime's dream, which seemed so close a week ago as the polls rested on a knife-edge.

But even though the dream is over, for now at least, Salmond has a promise to cash in from British party leaders who vowed to give his regional government sweeping new powers on tax-raising and spending to win over voters.

"Scotland has by majority decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country," Salmond said in his concession speech in Edinburgh on Friday.

He was also quick to remind the parties of their promises.

"The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course," he said.

Salmond had peppered his campaign with emotive language about his vision for Scotland's 5.3 million people, speaking of "freedom" to "break the shackles" of the 307-year-old union with England.

The portrait of a country Scottish voters have rejected was to have been social democratic, pro-European and nuclear weapons-free without Britain's submarine-based deterrent.

Fuelled by North Sea oil and gas revenues and whisky exports, the Scotland he promised would have been a prosperous small nation on the fringes of Europe.

Salmond will need to take stock of the defeat and work within the new powers offered to Scotland, and see if he can use his canny wit to keep the dream alive.

Throughout the campaign, Salmond's supporters praised his unflagging determination and his political know-how. His opponents branded him arrogant and misogynistic with a penchant for populism.

Many users on the online forum Mumsnet criticised him as "patronising", although British media regularly refer to him as "one of the most talented politicians of his generation".

Made in Scotland

Born to civil servants on December 31, 1954, Alexander Eliott Anderson Salmond is Scottish born and bred, graduating from St Andrews University in economics and mediaeval history.

Then a lawmaker in the British parliament, in 1990 Salmond took over leadership of the Scottish National Party (SNP) which had until then enjoyed only marginal support.

He steered the party towards the political centre -- four years before Tony Blair did something similar with a battered Labour Party.

David Torrance, author of "Salmond: Against the Odds", said Salmond and Blair, who is also of Scottish origin, were similar in that they were more pragmatic than dogmatic.

Torrance said the slogan for both could be: "Whatever works".

In 2000, the SNP suffered a setback in elections to the regional Scottish Parliament set up by Blair in Edinburgh as part of a series of reforms to decentralise the United Kingdom.

Salmond left the leadership of his party "forever", only to come back four years later saying: "I changed my mind".

Elected first minister in 2007, Salmond has kept a tight grip on SNP. His style is feisty and he likes to remind people that his father was a fan of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 2011, the SNP took an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament and Salmond won a promise from London to hold a referendum.

He recruited the Scottish actor Sean Connery to bolster his campaign and cultivated sometimes controversial ties with US tycoons Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch.

Salmond's aides say he has an "explosive temper" and he has an instinctive sense for the scathing political put-down.

Salmond rails against the London establishment but defends himself against accusations of being "anti-British".

Suspected at one point of holding republican views, he had promised to keep Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and wanted an independent Scotland to be a constitutional monarchy.

Sociable in public, he is discreet about his private life.

His wife Moira is 17 years older than him and is only rarely seen by his side. The couple have no children.

His passions are horse racing, good wine and curry, along with football and that most Scottish of sports -- golf.

Salmond also likes a good singalong. His favourite tune is "Scots Wha Hae" -- an ode to an epic victory against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago.

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