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Salmond hits milestone as longest serving leader

ALEX Salmond will next week become Scotland's longest-serving First Minister, prompting some sharp rebukes, particularly from faith leaders, but also plaudits on his record so far.

ALONE: Alex Salmond addresses the press after the SNP's election victory in May 2007, above, at the outset of a premiership whose sunny start has at times been overcast, left.
ALONE: Alex Salmond addresses the press after the SNP's election victory in May 2007, above, at the outset of a premiership whose sunny start has at times been overcast, left.

As a Herald exercise in taking soundings across Scotland shows, faith leaders are taking a dim view of Mr Salmond's achievements, some lawyers worse, but many in the trade unions, renewables sector and academia rather better.

Jack McConnell served for 2001 days, a stint as First Minister during which he steadied the ship after expense scandals and promised "to do less, better" and promote Scotland as the "best small country in the world".

Then along came Alex Salmond, sworn in on May 16, 2007, following the SNP becoming the largest party in Holyrood. Not for the first time his party defied expectations after a cunning back-room team had quietly grown confident of victory.

At around 11.20am on Tuesday it will have been 2001 days since the Chamber elected Mr Salmond as First Minister, and thereafter he becomes the longest-serving incumbent of Scotland's top political office. Donald Dewar served 544 days, a period marked mainly by his elevation to "father of the nation status", in spite of his culpability for the debacle over the rising expense of the Holyrood Parliament building.

His successor, Henry McLeish, served 378 days before succumbing to what with hindsight clearly was a "muddle not a fiddle" over office expenses that soon paled into insignificance compared to the avarice revealed at Westminster.

Mr Salmond not only survived in minority but flourished by drawing on the trusted triumvirate of Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, Finance Secretary John Swinney, and Parliament Minister Bruce Crawford.

That they were then able to build on their minority to win an outright victory in Scotland's proportional Parliament 18 months ago was unprecedented and entirely unanticipated.

The First Minister has appeared on the ropes in recent days, but he secured the Edinburgh Agreement on a binding referendum result and now has two years to build towards the next victory he needs if he is to take Scotland to independence.

Salmond: the verdicts

Henry McLeish,

Labour First Minister, 2000-01

In a remarkable five years he has taken the SNP from the fringe into the mainstream. He defied the electoral system with the outright win in 2011 within a rich, reforming Scots tradition: vigorous and populist, if not always progressive. He is a formidable politician who now faces his toughest test ahead. (8/10)

Dr Alison Elliot,

Former Kirk Moderator and chair of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

A cautionary tale of the perverse effects of success. In the minority phase, loyalties were negotiable and political discussion enjoyable. Now politics is a punter-free zone of poisonous tribalism. Today's leadership challenge is to change this. Full marks for leading his party (10/10). Could do better on leading the nation. (5/10)

Professor Tom Devine,

Historian, University of Edinburgh

He has secured a central place in the history of Scotland. Not only did he secure an unprecedented SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament, but the resulting referendum on independence in 2014 is by far the most significant event in Scottish history for three centuries. The only modern Scottish politician who approaches his achievements is Tom Johnston. (8/10)

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

Alex Salmond showed early promise and a commitment to the well-being of the people of Scotland, but recent inexplicable blind spots especially in the area of family life have obscured that promise. (5/10)

Grahame Smith,

General secretary, STUC

In dealings with us, the FM has been consistently respectful and responsive, as comfortable talking with workplace reps as with senior officials. As his speeches to Congress testify, he values the views of the trade union movement in Scotland. You might disagree with his politics but it's difficult not to respect the politician. (8/10)

Niall McCluskey,

Advocate specialising in criminal law and human rights

Mr Salmond inferred that the UK Supreme Court was dismantling the distinctive characteristic of Scots Law while ignoring the views of Scottish judges. Now Salmond's government plans to remove corroboration, a specific Scottish safeguard in criminal cases, while ignoring the views of the majority of Scottish judges. (4/10)

Niall Stuart,

Chief executive of Scottish Renewables

He has not just put renewables at the very heart of the country's economic and environmental strategies, the industry is a key part of the vision for a modern, sustainable and competitive Scotland – rapidly making Scotland an international centre of expertise in wave and tidal power and offshore wind. (8/10)

Iain McMillan,

Director of CBI Scotland

Achieved varying degrees of goodwill and trust with Scotland's business community. His economic record is mixed, with positives on developing infrastructure, championing renewable energy and improving Scotland's skills base. But there are negatives too, notably business tax rises, hostility to firms delivering public services and a lack of fully developed answers to questions on the independence issue. (5.5/10)

Professor John Field,

Professor of Lifelong Learning, University of Stirling

Mr Salmond has kept tuition fees firmly off the political agenda, while finding extra money for universities and radically improving student support. This isn't a stable long-term arrangement, but voters love it. Colleges, which are struggling at a time when vocational skills are critical, have paid the price. (7/10)

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