So, will Alex Salmond make that return trip to Westminster, again? And does anyone care?
His almost coquettish refusal to say for definite, on BBC’s Question Time, whether he plans to swap the IKEA-like backbenches of Holyrood for their green-leather equivalents at Westminster created a fair old stir in certain quarters yesterday. And, as someone who’s always determined to remain as much in the limelight as he can, we can be sure that Mr Salmond will keep those who are interested in his future on tenterhooks for as long as possible.
In giving up being first minister and SNP leader, at his party’s conference next month, Mr Salmond is due to have a massive amount of spare time.
What’s he to do with it? That is the question that political anoraks, if not normal people, are asking this morning.
I’d naturally be the last to recall that the devil invariably finds work for idle hands, but would one of those urging her predecessor to take up that Commons option be Nicola Sturgeon, the incoming party and government boss?
One of the last things she’d want, I’m sure, on a professional, if not a personal level, is the glowering figure of Wee Eck sitting in judgment only a few Holyrood yards away. Better, surely, for her peace of mind to have him doing any glowering from a distance of 400-plus miles.
But, on the other hand, if Mr Salmond did go to the Commons would he not immediately be termed the Nats’ Westminster leader?
And if that party’s plans go well at the general election, there might be a sizeable grouping of them there. How could the SNP, not to mention Ms Sturgeon, cope with that? Not so much a “king over the water” as a king beside the Thames, just waiting for the independence referendum demand to raise its ugly head once more.
And if he wins all those extra MPs, he would be very much a star attraction in what could easily be a decidedly hung parliament.
He’s always fancied, as he says himself, “hanging a Westminster government on a Scottish rope.” It could happen.
What else is in a return to London for Alex Salmond? On the plus side, and no matter his belief in breaking up Britain, it would get him back to the Commons, the forum whose surroundings and adversarial atmosphere have always been more to his liking than Holyrood.
The money’s better, too – nearly £70,000 in London as against less than £60,000 in Edinburgh, although that won’t be a crucial consideration. And as a former First Minister he’d also have a £40,000 plus pension to keep the wolf from the door. Although he would be a mere backbencher in Commons terms the fact that he’s also a Privy Councillor would mean that he would invariably be called by the Speaker, and take precedence over other Nat MPs, if he wants to speak.
His colleagues might not like his lording it over them, but since when has that bothered Alex Salmond?
Choosing to fight the Gordon constituency, where Sir Malcolm Bruce, the Lib Dem incumbent, is standing down must be very tempting especially as Mr Salmond would reckon that Christine Jardine, the replacement Lib Dem candidate, would be easily rolled over.
There are a few minuses about a return to the Commons for him. A huge fish in a wee pond at present, he’d be a relative nobody at Westminster, with nothing to do and no one listening to him, unless his party wins lots of seats next May.
Staying at Holyrood, however, has very few attractions. He would be turfed out of Bute House, his Edinburgh home for the past seven and a bit years, as well as his suite of offices at both Holyrood and St Andrew’s House.
He’d be allocated one of those tiny wee MSP “cupboards-cum-offices” and, with luck, he might find a decent billet in a hotel or block of flats – but certainly nothing worthy of his status – for the couple of nights a week he’s forced to stay away from his Aberdeenshire home. He’d find attendance at Holyrood extremely tedious, as at present do most of those who would be his new colleagues.
No, the Commons must be his best bet – providing the polls suggest to him that in going there he’d be at the head of a sizeable rump of Nat MPs, determined still to break up Britain. He could be both an MSP and an MP if he wished, certainly until the Holyrood election in 2016.
I would guess that Mr Salmond’s wife, Moira, would have a major say in what happens but whatever the couple decide, there is a more immediate problem for Nat One. It concerns cars and chauffeurs. The first thing that Mr Salmond will notice when he stands down is that the official limo and its driver will disappear.
That, as retired politicians and sacked senior executives will tell you is often the worst thing about their changed circumstances. As one minister told me last night: “When frustration bites about this job, it’s the fact that I’ve got a ministerial car and driver that keeps me going.”
Alex Salmond has always set great store by being driven everywhere – there were furious rows a generation ago when his taxi bills were queried by the then party treasurer – so will he be able to cope without that stretch limo?
I doubt it. There are, however, ways of arranging such things. Whilst neither of his retired predecessors have government cars and drivers, there are many retired politicos elsewhere who merit such perks on “security” grounds.
Watch out, then, for Wee Eck being declared a security risk and keeping the motor.
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