The Moderniser: Alex Salmond's Journey

By Jackson, Ben | Renewal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Moderniser: Alex Salmond's Journey


Jackson, Ben, Renewal


It is a curious, but pleasing, coincidence that the most gifted centre-left politicians of recent times were all born in Scotland: Gordon Brown (born in Giffnock, 1951); Tony Blair (born in Edinburgh, 1953); and Alex Salmond (born in Linlithgow, 1954). Different in upbringing, beliefs and political style, this trio can nonetheless be classed together as the outstanding representatives of a single political generation.

Salmond is rarely viewed in this context. Party differences are assumed to trump any similarities, while a lifetime devoted to the SNP meant that Salmond's career trajectory was out of synch with the rise and fall of Blair and Brown. Salmond is only now enjoying the peak of his public career, after his contemporaries have been vanquished from office. But a comparison with Blair and Brown is illuminating. Amid the recent effusion of metropolitan commentary on Salmond, it is easily forgotten that he has also been on a political journey, like Blair and Brown weathering the slow erosion of positions once firmly held in the face of bleak and implacable circumstances.

The generation of Blair, Brown and Salmond rose to political maturity in the 1970s, and to positions of political leadership and influence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In spite of their differences, this generation therefore shared a disagreeable burden: crafting a left response to the victories of Thatcherism and, in effect, presiding over as orderly a retreat as possible from the positions entrenched by the left in the 1940s.

The spirit of '79

Salmond of course chose a different path from Blair and Brown. He rejected the comforting embrace - and career advancement - offered by the British labour movement. But the labour movement was an influential factor in Salmond's thinking as he rose through the ranks of the SNP during the 1970s. Salmond first stepped into the political limelight as a result of his participation in the '79 Group, an organisation which aimed to promote a more decisively left-wing agenda within the SNP. The Group was formed in response to the political disappointments of 1979, notably the failure of Scottish devolution to win greater popular support in the referendum of that year and the loss of nine of the SNP's eleven MPs in the subsequent general election. The '79 Group argued that Scottish nationalism would only become electorally successful if it won over working class Labour voters, and to attract their support it was necessary to present Scottish independence as a means of advancing socialist objectives. As Stephen Maxwell, one of the most important members of the Group, observed a few years later:

  Among the chief intellectual influences on the '79 Group must be
  counted the Labour Party, or, more precisely, the Labour Party's
  success in retaining its working-class support in Scotland when it
  was being steadily eroded in England. (Maxwell, 1985, 12)

The members of the '79 Group therefore adhered to a relatively traditional form of Labour socialism - supplemented by an admixture of New Left-style community politics - and oriented themselves towards Labour voters and institutions, especially the trade unions. As Maxwell noted, Alex Salmond - one of 'the "discoveries" of the Group' - enjoyed influence and prestige among his colleagues because of his involvement in the campaigns against factory closures in his home constituency of West Lothian. The model offered by the West Lothian SNP's fight against deindustrialisation 'helped to confirm a model of Scottish society in which the industrial working class figured as the only potential challenger to the British state' (Maxwell, 1985, 13).

The '79 Group was ultimately seen as too factional and provocative by the rest of the SNP. Among other things, its commitment to civil disobedience caused discomfort to the SNP mainstream. Salmond himself was briefly expelled from the SNP in 1982-83 as a result of his association with the Group, though a deal was quickly brokered that soldered the Party back together (the full story is recounted in Torrance, 2011, 97-117).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Moderniser: Alex Salmond's Journey
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?