Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond is our Politician of the Year.

As things turn out, he is everyone's politician of the year. Even within the remains of the London Establishment, they find him to be the most impressive example of his caste. Of course they do.

The First Minister is good at his job. He is at ease – and this is truly unusual – with the idea of himself as a national leader. Mr Salmond identifies himself with Scotland. The rest – let's not labour the point – do not. So he pastes the floor with them, week upon week.

One odd upshot is that they praise him for it. An ancient Tory magazine I once nominated (in these pages) as "the Typhoid Mary of British journalism" decided in November that Salmond was their politician of the year. An institution debauched by Murdoch – for it ain't a-changin' – has meanwhile named Eck as their "Briton" of 2011. Crivvens.

They think that's funny, of course. They also appear to believe that eternal irony is a single-edged blade. But whittle the idea to a point. If the nationalist who wants an end to Britain is the best Britain can manage, as a rhetorician and representative figure, what remains of what we used to call a British Establishment?

No one boasts of "working in the City", these days. To be a member or claimant within the Palace of Westminster is not a fact one mentions, sir, in company. The London press – don't call me on the mobile, guv – have become just a little shabbier. Being royal is no longer worth even an Andrew Marr tie-in book (especially with "Elizabeth II" on the jacket). "Britain" is an idea in difficulty.

So they seize, it appears, on the imp of the perverse, our Alex. He becomes the stick with which they beat themselves. Here's Salmond, the politician who believes in something. Salmond, the politician who can manage poetry on behalf of a polity. Salmond, all your Anglophone nightmares rolled into one ample country sausage-shape. This "regional" politician turns out to be better at the job than anyone the Spectator can imagine. Jings.

Here's your basic Alex Salmond question: How does he get away with it? How do we end up with a situation, in the immediate run-up to 2012, in which the most significant threat to the British state is also the biggest threat to Scottish nationalism yet seen? That's called a paradox. It's also called: never go the bookies with Alex Salmond.

The First Minster's referendum could be upon him in 2012, whether he likes it or not. Unionists who think they are smart – we'll call that a contradiction in terms – want to force the issue. They think we must choose, then enjoy our Olympics, and our Andrew Marr downloads, and thereinafter cease to disturb the peace.

Then we might believe that the many benefits of being British will become plain. Probably. In a by-gone age, we called it "the right to self-determination".

Still, news is news. One of those "major constitutional issues" will be upon us, shortly. It will be a big deal. Salmond will pull a surprise; our English friends will have to find Scotland on a map; and the London Tory press will have to think again about "Britons". And the first thing they will have to think is this...

Why couldn't the cause of Unionism come up with anyone, just once, prepared to contend with Salmond? Why was a quick flight (or a slow train) to Thames-sur-Mer always preferable?

Some of you know who you are: we've met. I've certainly spent time in your company, especially while you talked "devo", and "N*ts", and – my favourite – "What we won't allow is..." But "is" is now. If the cause of Union is plain, who speaks on its behalf?

Those Tory sheets who give ironical prizes to a First Minister can't answer the question. They don't know what their Britain is. But old Britain's self-selecting and self-destroying habits become obvious, in time. There isn't a Gordon Brown in Scotland's parliament for a simple reason: Mr Brown, Mr Darling, and all the others, never believed that Scotland mattered enough.

Makes you proud, eh?

I could make a list, if you like. The list would involve generations of those who always thought that working for a Murdoch, or a Blair, or an Oxbridge, signified better, mattered more, in an Anglophone mental universe, than anything they were born by. "Just as long as Scotland remains forgettable," they thought.

It won't work out that way in this 21st of centuries. British unionism – the British idea – is about to be taken apart by a person given accolades by the colonialist British press. And no one is even taking note of that joke.

Equally, the idea that Scotland could have its referendum in association with a Brian Souter-sponsored, Trump-handling, Vatican-and-Kirk placating leisure-monarchist has almost gone by default. Perhaps that's just me.

Or perhaps not. What's fascinating about the success of Salmond is the paltry state of the so-called Unionist opposition. Less studied is the kind of Scotland that our Great Helsman appears to fancy. Given a choice, you might want to ask who defines the choices.

I didn't pick our Politician of the Year. I don't get invited to those parties. Let me remind you, however, that there are types of independence, and that the First Minister of Scotland holds no copyrights. The fact that the British state seems incapable of fielding an advocate says something about their ancient decadence. What of our own?

Is the First Minister, witty and bold and honest, our best shot? When your enemies shower prizes, wonder about your friends. When the prizes are taken with such an appetite, wonder about your country. That's an argument for 2012.

Here's another: no one, thanks to the genius of Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond, has yet mentioned the biggest argument of all. Eck would rather we did not speak of it. Still, some must.

Being independent of those lovely English folk is one thing. What about my republic?