Alex Salmond: Scotland's former first minister fails at ballot box

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London (AFP)

Alex Salmond came within a whisker of immortality among supporters of independence when he took Scotland to the brink of a breakaway from Britain.

Seven years on from the landmark referendum, the former first minister, who is credited by even his staunchest opponents with making the independence movement the dominant force in Scottish politics, has received a humiliating electoral defeat, with his newly founded Alba party failing to win any seats in the devolved parliament.

The 66-year-old former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader quit frontline politics in 2014, immediately after the campaign he spearheaded lost the independence referendum by 55 percent to 45 percent.

But in March, just weeks out from Thursday's elections to the Scottish parliament, Salmond launched his new pro-independence party Alba with the aim of delivering a "supermajority" for independence.

While Salmond said his "new political force" would complement the SNP, the move was bitterly criticised by his former colleagues in the party he championed for decades including his former protegee, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

As Sturgeon used the SNP campaign to seek a mandate for a second referendum after the pandemic, Salmond's Alba Party said it would push for immediate talks with the UK government.

Salmond hoped Alba would benefit from the proportional representation system where voters have a second vote that goes to elect regional MSPs, but this strategy did not succeed.

Salmond's defeat at the ballot box marks a new nadir for the eminence grise of Scottish politics who last year battled to save his personal reputation after being charged with a string of sex offences, including attempted rape.

While in March 2020 he was cleared after an 11-day trial, after arguing the "nightmare" case against him was politically motivated, the case saw even his closest allies, including Sturgeon, move to distance themselves from him.

The accusations against Salmond and his spectacular falling out with Sturgeon have continued to reverberate across Scottish politics in recent months and threatened to split the independence movement.

- Made in Scotland -

Alexander Eliott Anderson Salmond was born on December 31, 1954 in Linlithgow, near Edinburgh, and graduated in economics and medieval history from the prestigious St Andrews University.

He worked as an economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland before entering the British parliament but found his calling when in 1990 he took over leadership of the Scottish National Party.

Four years before Tony Blair would do something similar to create "New Labour", Salmond steered the SNP towards the political centre and prepared to do battle.

David Torrance, author of "Salmond: Against the Odds", said both Salmond and Blair were more pragmatic than dogmatic and their slogan could be: "Whatever works."

In the first elections for the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh in 1999 -- created under Blair's leadership -- the SNP lost out to Labour and Salmond quit as leader.

He said his decision was "forever" but he was re-elected in 2004, saying: "I changed my mind."

He was rewarded with power, being elected first minister of a minority SNP government in 2007, and then in 2011 won an absolute majority -- and the promise of a referendum.

- Politician of a generation -

Salmond's charisma was hugely effective on the campaign trail but disguised what aides called an "explosive temper" and a talent for the scathing political put-down.

His supporters praise his unflagging determination and his political know-how, while his opponents brand him arrogant and misogynistic with a penchant for populism.

Many on both sides agree that he was one of the most talented politicians of his generation.

Salmond has presented a talk show on Kremlin-funded channel RT since 2017.

His wife Moira is 17 years older and is only rarely seen by his side. The couple have no children.

His passions are horse racing, good wine and Indian curry, along with football and golf.

Salmond also likes a singalong. His favourite tune is "Scots Wha Hae" -- an ode by Scotland's national poet Robert Burns to an epic victory against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago.