by Douglas Lindsay, with Dr Ian Shackleton, senior lecturer at the Glasgow School of Politics and Football
Salmond announces SNP For No movement as balance of power shifts
Seeking to protect his position as First Minister and leader of the SNP following last week's independence debate car crash, Alex Salmond used a photoshoot at a dairy farm in Perth this morning to unexpectedly launch a new SNP For No movement, as a counter to Labour For Yes.
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Sensing the growth of opposition within his own party amid calls for him to be usurped by deputy Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond reportedly sat down with his personal policy advisers over the weekend and arrived at the new strategy, looking to appeal to SNP voters who are not yet ready for Scotland to become independent.
'Let me be absolutely clear about this,' said Salmond, speaking to the press while milking a cow, 'I want Scotland to be independent, and one day Scotland will be independent. But, you know, I think everyone's getting a wee bitty carried away with this independence talk.
'It's all currency this, and sterling that, and aliens attacking from space the next thing. Let's everybody calm down and talk about this sensibly over a coffee and a doughnut.'
Accepting that he had been rushed into the independence vote 10 years ahead of schedule, largely thanks to the rank incompetence of Scottish Labour which had handed the SNP the majority government in 2011, political insiders believe the First Minister intends to push for a No vote, then cull the party of his opponents and supporters of Sturgeon, before taking a more measured approach to independence. It is believed he will aim for a decisive vote in 2024, by which time Salmond will be 87.
'On the one hand, Alex Salmond makes Iain Gray and Johann Lamont look like Kyle Lafferty at a convention of Eusebios,' says Dr Ian Shackleton, of the Glasgow School of Politics and Football, 'but ultimately, he's thinking about his own legacy as much as any politician.'
Looking out over the majestic marble domes of Glasgow's south side in the weak August sunshine , Dr Shackleton continues in pensive mood: 'Some suspect that the First Minister intentionally torpedoed the debate last week. If Yes wins September's vote, it will be by the narrowest of margins. There will be resentment from England, there will be resentment from a large minority in Scotland. Things will be ugly, and he will be remembered as the politician who brought the ugly.'
Political analysts believe that the campaign was supposed to be about re-shaping the agenda, to get Scotland talking about independence, with a view to building a groundswell of opinion leading to a large majority vote in 2024.
Now, however, thanks to the energy of grassroots Yes campaigners coupled with a Better Together campaign that has channelled Mr Bean and multiplied it by East Stirling, Salmond finds himself facing the possibility of a victory that was not supposed to happen for another decade.
'There's no question that was why he started banging on about aliens and driving on the wrong side of the road,' says Dr Shackleton. 'There's no doubt that was why he treated the Plan B question like it was contaminated with the Ebola virus. Mr Salmond has one of the finest political minds of his generation. In my opinion, he came across as Kermit the Frog because he wanted to come across as Kermit the Frog.'
A secret memo released to the impartial wing of the BBC has revealed the First Minister's seven-point plan, which tells us as much about his own political ambition as it does about his plans for the future of Scotland:
• engineer an heroic failure in next month's vote, of the kind familiar to Scots from many World Cup group stage eliminations
• purge the party of Sturgeon supporters, replacing them with his own loyal servants
• progress the Scottish independence debate, building a consensus away from the glare and passion of an actual vote
• hold a new referendum in 2024, which will pass with a predicted Yes vote of at least 75%
• become iScotland's first supreme Chancellor
• build a 200ft monument to himself to tower over Princes Street in Edinburgh
• invade England, creating a Greater Scotland, extending as far south as the Humber
'The debate has got away from Mr Salmond,' says Shackleton. 'It's similar to states sponsoring small terrorist groups, then suddenly before they know it, the terrorist group has outgrown it and is knocking on the door of the kingdom threatening to blow it up. Salmond has lost control. The genie is out of the bottle, and he's learning that while you can put the Pringles back in the can, you can't turn mince back into steak.'
Announcing his new SNP For No movement, Salmond was in boisterous mood. 'Come with me on a journey,' he told a crowd of cheering farm animals. 'The pillars of western society are collapsing around us. Let us not add to the collapse by breeding strife at home. Let us sit back and wait, and when the UK has fallen so low that it's being propped up by loans from Niger, then we will make our move.'
Later Mr Salmond visited a cheese factory and promised workers that cheese would remain a central part of Scotland's future.