This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Alex Salmond returned to the House of Commons yesterday for the first time in an official capacity since losing his seat in 2017 to give evidence to MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee.

Members of the cross party body last year launched an inquiry into relations between the Scottish and UK governments over the 25 years since the Scotland Act in 1998, not on the face of it a subject that you would think would appeal to those outside a rather niche bubble of constitutional historians.

However, Mr Salmond’s appearance attracted widespread interest and generated dramatic newspaper headlines, including of course in The Herald.

Alongside the academics and journalists who tuned in, the former first minster’s evidence, given over two hours and 38 minutes, was also keenly watched by SNP politicians.

Officially, their former leader is now a rather isolated figure, the leader of the minor pro-independence Alba Party, with whom no deals will be done to progress their common cause.

However, the reality is, is that Mr Salmond continues to have many senior admirers, as well as close friends and allies in his old party.

SNP folk loved the way he rebuked Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross yesterday for mixing up a timeline over the Ferguson Marine's ferries crisis.

They agreed with his assessment that in recent years a deterioration in relations between the UK and Scottish governments has much to do with Brexit and its aftermath, including the encroachment of Westminster onto Holyrood's powers by the internal market act.

And they respected his decision to hold back yesterday on attacks on the Scottish Government and its current First Minister Humza Yousaf. Indeed, during the hearing, Mr Salmond was robust in his criticism of Lord Cameron for telling off Mr Yousaf like a "naughty school boy" for meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir without the presence of a UK official.

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Instead, Mr Salmond's ire was for the most part directed towards former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, his own predecessor as SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her chief of staff Liz Lloyd.

"If you had been First Minister during the Covid pandemic would you have carried out government in the way the Sturgeon government [did]?" asked Michael Shanks, Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

Mr Salmond replied: "I would not have let that person anywhere near being a senior advisor. The person you are talking about is Liz Lloyd."

No one on the committee pointed out that Ms Lloyd had in fact worked for Mr Salmond in a senior role during his time in office. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as a special advisor to the First Minister on finance and the constitution from January 2012 to December 2014 and his deputy spokesperson.

Scottish Affairs Select Committee chair Pete Wishart – a prominent critic of Alba – was prepared to set aside Mr Salmond’s criticism of Ms Sturgeon's decision to give Ms Lloyd such a key role in her government when he gave his assessment afterwards of Mr Salmond’s committee performance.

Mr Wishart also overlooked the awkward questions Mr Salmond’s evidence raised about the Scottish Government's policy on information retention and deletion.

"Alex was excellent at my committee today. Gave a fascinating account of his time in government and resisted all opportunities to attack the Scottish Government. Imagine what could be possible if he was to deal with the vile haters and obsessives in his party...", he wrote on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter.

Joanna Cherry KC, the SNP for Edinburgh South West and chair of the House of Commons's human rights committee, was also keen to sing the former First Minister's praises.

She wrote on X: "What a joy to watch Alex Salmond giving evidence to Commons Scottish Affairs Committee about intergovernmental relations. A particular pleasure to see him filleting Douglas Ross MP for getting his facts wrong. It’s like an adult has come back into the room. Grown up politics."

Could such warm words lead eventually to a rapprochement between Mr Salmond and the SNP? It’s currently impossible to say.

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His criticism of Ms Sturgeon, who clearly has important allies in the party too, including the First Minister, will continue to anger parts of the SNP still loyal to her and her legacy.

What the future holds for Mr Salmond's relationship with the SNP is likely to be shaped by external events, such as Operation Branchform.

And with reports today saying police are now re-interviewing SNP staff in connection with the investigation, it would seem the inquiry is far from over.

But the reaction to Mr Salmond’s appearance at yesterday’s committee does suggest some in his former party would certainly not be adverse to opening the door to his return.