WHEN Alex Salmond stepped away from the main political stage last year after his defeat at the General Election, there was never any danger that the former First Minister would give up politics completely.
So far, however, he has been true to his word to step back and regroup, and apart from a few ‘walk on’ appearances in political guise he has taken to the stage, screen and radio studio in a different role as chat show host and presenter.
He will not be returning to mainstream politics in the immediate future, telling The National he is not minded to stand for the Deputy Leadership of the SNP and that he is currently concentrating on steadily building up an audience for his television show on RT and his radio phone-in programme on LBC where up to two million listeners regularly tune in to a show that is both entertaining and can be profoundly moving as when Gosia Krawczyk from Tarbert called in to plead for the return of the body of her husband Przemek from the wreck of the Nancy Glen in Loch Fyne.
It is one of the few political interventions that Salmond has made – he called on the UK Government to raise the wreck of the Nancy Glen so that the bodies of fishermen Duncan McDougall and Przemek Krawczyk can be recovered, just as he successfully fronted the campaign in 1997 to raise the North Sea fishing boat the Sapphire so that the four bodies trapped aboard it could be returned to their families.
Salmond said: “The LBC producers took some persuading but of course there was a huge response. We had a woman from Croydon phone in and she was in tears about the whole thing.
“Having one of the widows speaking was very poignant. Gosia was very courageous to come on the programme and did extremely well.
“The Scottish Government’s decision to help recover the bodies from the Nancy Glen is absolutely right.”
He called his hit show at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe Alex Salmond Unleashed and then took it on a brief tour of three dates around the country, finishing in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders in November.
Now Salmond is again to be ‘unleashed’ with a new tour in which he will host the show at four locations in Scotland before going to London.
The new tour begins in the Caird Hall on Friday, March 2, followed by the Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on Saturday, March 3, and then to Salmond’s home town of Linlithgow on Friday, 9 March, and the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow on Saturday, March 10, with the final date being Sunday, April 22, in the Cadogan Hall in London.
The format will be the same as those earlier tour dates and it should be noted that in addition to selling out all 24 shows thus far Alex Salmond Unleashed has raised some £27,000 for charities in Scotland and beyond.
The new tour will include guest appearances by Scots comedians Janey Godley and Des Clarke, with legendary Scottish folk singer Sheena Wellington and the show’s in-house band The Carloways all performing.
Salmond revealed: “Des Clarke has been a hit with his impersonation of ‘The Donald’ so we are working on new routines which might just be slightly surreal. I dare say the Rev Jolly might appear, especially after he got 165,000 views on Facebook around Christmas. I am particularly pleased that we are going to the Caird Hall in Dundee which I love and that we are also going to the Highlands for the first time.
“I’m also looking forward to the show in Linlithgow which is obviously very special for me. The last time I performed in the theatre of Linlithgow Academy was 1967 when I sang a rendition of Edelweiss in the scout gang show, but this time I won’t be singing Edelweiss but might just be tempted into singing the Four Marys, the Linlithgow song, with Sheena Wellington.
“I’ve also never done a speech in the Citizens in Glasgow so that will be great fun.”
Each show will also include a special mystery guest whose identity is supposed to be a secret but there is a strong rumour that opening show in Dundee might well feature local hero and Hollywood superstar Brian Cox, while Alastair Campbell has already been revealed as the guest in the Cadogan Hall in London – “we disagree on just about everything with the exception of Brexit,” said Salmond.
Salmond is clearly enjoying his new career: “I got a great buzz out of appearing in Edinburgh and I know the stage show is better because we have more time – on the Fringe you have one hour and if you don’t get off the South Korean dancers come on – which allows you to do more things.”
All his guests on stage and television have been entertaining and instructive, and there’s more to come with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern coming up.
Salmond singled out two of his RT guests for their contributions. He explained: “I have interviewed Mary McAleese (former President of Ireland) for my television show which will be shown in a couple of weeks’ time. She is a wonderful speaker who uses words with such skill. She was on my LBC show on Sunday and demanded that Theresa May should go to Northern Ireland to explain herself, and lo and behold an hour later Downing Street announced that the Prime Minister will be going to Northern Ireland, though whether she succeeds in explaining herself will be another matter.
“On the TV show the interviews which have been about personal and family challenges are the ones which have worked best. Doddie Weir’s interview about the challenge he faces with motor neurone disease and Sir Jackie Stewart’s account of how he is dealing with his wife Helen‘s dementia were very moving.
“My favourite guest was Freddie Knoller the Belsen survivor. What an amazing man, 96 years young and still full of beans and full of life. He had the most epic survival story, living on roots to survive Belsen, but now he’s been married for 67 years and is so full of vitality.
“The interview with (Catalonian President-elect) Carles Puigdemont was particularly interesting as was the interview with President Michel Aoun of the Lebanon. He was very calm, very astute, a former general and the sort of man you want to be leading you in a crisis.
“He told me a good story during the presidential audience which I was granted as a former First Minister.
“He asked me about the differences and similarities between Scotland and Lebanon, so I pointed to the difference in the climate and the main similarity was the fact that we both have large expatriate communities.
“He replied, ‘no I was thinking more that we both have problems with our neighbours’.”
ON matters political, you can never rule anything out with Alex Salmond but on the deputy leadership of the SNP he is adamant: “I haven’t really said anything about it. It’s not something I have in mind.
“I haven’t released a statement about it as I don’t really regard it as a tenable or realistic proposition.”
Nor will he say who he is backing: “We don’t even know the field yet but I’m sure there will be no shortage of candidates.
“I always liked internal elections as they are good for debating issues. Deputy leadership elections in the SNP have been quite significant, and in living memory the really significant one that I can remember was myself against Jim Fairlie in 1987 which was basically the classic face-off between the fundamentalists and the gradualists.
“It was an epic contest which was resolved in favour of gradualism and myself, so they can be good for debate and a template for party strategy as the party benefitted from having the issues discussed and people getting things out of their systems.
“What motivates people in the SNP is independence so there is nothing more motivating than having a debate about how we are getting there.
“It’s not a debate about whether we have independence or even why, it’s a debate about how to get independence in nearest proximity.”
As to the second independence referendum Salmond promised that if anyone comes to the five shows on the tour, he will answer the question “if I am asked” about when indyref2 should take place.
He is meanwhile reserving his main thoughts, and indeed his main ire, for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit.
Salmond said: “Theresa May is the worst prime minister that I know of. She is someone who knows from her own experience and her own background and her own wishes during the EU referendum campaign and also from the professional advice of her civil servants, she absolutely knows that Brexit of any kind, but especially a hard Brexit, is going to be an act of economic self-harm that is going to blight the lives of millions of people.
“It is going to reduce the living standards of people and she knows this to be a reasonably provable fact, yet she is blundering ahead in that aimless, disorganised and haphazard fashion that she has made her own. That is an act of complete abdication of political leadership.
“Margaret Thatcher made some really grievous policy errors but I do think she probably believed she was doing the right thing but Theresa May knows she is doing the wrong things and no one can work out why. She is both incompetent and wrong-headed.
“As for Jeremy Corbyn, he is guilty of abdication of opposition. In terms of democracy there has to be an alternative government, a choice offered on the key issues of the day and Brexit is that issue.
“He is offering no choice, no substance, a will o’ the wisp policy that no one can get a handle on, because Corbyn knows full well that he is part of a hard Brexit cadre of an old Labour leadership, whereas Labour’s membership and their predominantly younger supporters are keen on staying within a European context.
“He wonders why he can’t get a lead in the opinion polls – well you can’t stay fuzzy on the big issue of the day and expect to beat the Government.
“That might tell the SNP that time is short to provide a different Scottish solution.”
As a man with a lifelong visceral hatred of sectarianism and bigotry, Salmond also castigated the other parties in Holyrood for their vote to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which he piloted through the Parliament.
“It is totally shameful,” said Salmond. “It is perfectly legitimate to say such legislation could be improved, or changed in certain aspects, that is what happens as legislation beds down.
“To know what’s going on all you have to do is listen to what is being sung during certain televised matches, so why on earth in Scotland in 2018 should we accept sectarian singing in our living rooms, and anybody who does anything which sustains that and allows it to continue should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
“Labour is greatly to blame, and I don’t expect anything from the Tories who have little regard for eliminating sectarianism in Scotland as we have seen from the antics of some of their councillors and candidates,
“But you would hope that progressive parties would want to eliminate sectarianism and its manifestations as surely as they should want to eliminate sexism and racism – it is in the same category of evil things, and the only way to defeat it is to confront it, so to run away from that battle is a dreadful thing.
“To do it for political purposes is pathetic and the irony is that they won’t get any thanks for it because the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want to have done with this.
“It is putting a stain on Scotland’s reputation as a country in order to give a bloody nose to the SNP – what could be more pathetic than that?”