Alex Salmond is back. After a bruising defeat in the Scottish independence referendum last year, the former Scottish first minister is heading for Westminster.
Salmond stood down as Scottish National Party leader in the wake of the defeat but is running for a parliamentary seat in Aberdeenshire. If elected, he will be a key figure in an SNP grouping that is set to gain as many as 50 seats.
With no party likely to gain a majority, the Conservatives have been putting up billboards of Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket all over England – where he is unpopular – to highlight the possibility of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. Salmond has done much to fuel this by claiming he would do everything to put Miliband in Downing Street and then “call the tune”.
It is in this context that Salmond has published his latest book, a diary of the 100 days leading up to the referendum on 19 September 2014. The title, The Dream Shall Never Die, gives much away: Salmond is not ready to give up on Scottish independence despite the drubbing last year.
The book is compelling if petty. It shamelessly name-drops celebrities he has met and settles scores with his enemies but it makes for a great read.
Permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson receives much criticism. During the campaign, Macpherson abandoned the traditional neutrality of the civil service to support Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat promises to stop an independent Scotland using sterling. Salmond says Macpherson intervened through worry about land he owned in Scotland rather than civic concern over the risks of independence.
There are a lot of personal attacks like this. Although it was unorthodox and almost unconstitutional for Macpherson to speak out, Salmond assumes the worst motives. He cannot accept that there is a reasonable, hard-headed – as well as patriotic – argument for Scotland to stay in the union.
And, despite the defeat, everyone he meets apparently supports independence or Scottish Home Rule as a minimum. The list includes top businessmen, sportsmen and artists.
Everything is seen through the prism of the referendum campaign. Salmond hopes England will go far in the football World Cup in Brazil because this would spark more Scottish nationalism. It may be some solace for the hapless England team that its failure helped keep the union together.
When US president Barack Obama speaks out against independence, Salmond responds by turning Obama’s ‘Yes we can’ slogan against him. “A game of Top Trumps with the US president. Think I may have won,” he says proudly.
As the campaign concludes, Salmond believes Scotland has been betrayed by the parties not fulfilling their infamous ‘Vow’ – a pre-referendum pledge to hand Scotland more devolved powers.
While independence has receded for now, it is clear that Salmond will make extra powers his key Westminster priority for the new batch of SNP MPs.
Clearly, Salmond loves the political game: the power, the drama and even the double-crossing. He is a constitutional expert and greatly looks forward to getting back to Westminster.
“I have no idea what kind of mischief he will get up to,” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon recently remarked to the French ambassador in a leaked memo.
Salmond may be pompous and petty but, like his book, he will not be boring.