A profile of SNP leader Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond Alex Salmond is seen as one of the most prolific politicians of his generation

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Love him or loathe him, few would dispute Alex Salmond's skill and achievements as a politician.

He is a man who has spent his whole political career dividing opinion.

Mr Salmond's political beginnings as a brash, yet passionate, outsider have never disappeared - even when he turned statesman as the head of Scotland's government and his beloved Scottish National Party.

As one of the most talented politicians of his generation, he has now brought the SNP as close to its dream of independence as it has ever been, in the wake of a landslide election win and a deal to hold a referendum in 2014.

The SNP leader has now reached another milestone, becoming Scotland's longest-serving first minister, breaking the record held by his predecessor, Labour's Jack McConnell.

Mr Salmond's reputation as a hot-headed and rebellious character ensured he was a high-profile politician long before becoming first minister of Scotland.

Born on Hogmanay 1954 in the ancient and royal burgh of Linlithgow, Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond graduated from St Andrews University and began a career in economics, working for the Scottish Office and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

He also played an increasingly active role in the Scottish National Party, having come to the conclusion that the economic case for independence was strong.

His initial rise to prominence, both inside and outside the party, came as the SNP entered its darkest period.

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In a world where political leaders so often rise from within the establishment - Mr Salmond made it with a totally unconventional approach, the like of which may not be seen again”

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The 1979 General Election, which resulted in victory at the polls for Margaret Thatcher's Tories, saw the number of Nationalist MPs slashed from 11 to two.

Mr Salmond played a prominent role in the breakaway '79 Group, which sought to sharpen the SNP's message and appeal to dissident Labour voters after the party's collapse - a move which earned him a brief expulsion in 1982.

Reflecting on the incident years later, he put it down in part to his being a "brash young man" - although the urge to cause a bit of mischief has never been far from his mind.

Despite his form, Mr Salmond established himself as a rising star of the SNP, winning the Westminster seat of Banff and Buchan in 1987 - and notably getting himself banned from the Commons chamber for a week after interrupting the chancellor's Budget speech in protest at the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland.

When the job of party leader came up in 1990, Mr Salmond made his move and, on winning the post, repositioned the SNP as more socially democratic and pro-European.

The delivery of Scottish devolution presented new opportunities for the SNP. The party failed to win the first Holyrood election in 1999, but won enough seats to set itself up as the official opposition.

During the campaign, Mr Salmond had sparked controversy when he described Nato action in Kosovo as "an act of dubious legality, but, above all, one of unpardonable folly".

After putting in a decade as SNP leader, Mr Salmond made the decision to quit and stand down as an MSP.

Leadership challenge

He returned to Westminster, where he had built up a high profile, partly from his many appearances on TV programmes ranging from Question Time to Have I got News for You.

Mr Salmond has also put his love of horse racing to good use, appearing as a pundit on Channel 4's The Morning Line programme, as well as offering tips and insights through the pages of the Racing Post.

John Swinney - later to become Scottish finance secretary - succeeded Mr Salmond as leader, but stood down in 2004 following continued criticism from sections of the party and the negative publicity of a leadership challenge.

Many turned to Mr Salmond to grasp the thistle and take his old job back.

He responded by borrowing from Union Army General William Sherman, who, on being asked to run for president following the American Civil War, declared: "If nominated I'll decline. If drafted I'll defer. And if elected I'll resign."

As it was looking like Roseanna Cunningham was a front-runner for the job, Mr Salmond entered the leadership race, "with a degree of surprise and humility, but with a renewed determination".

Alex Salmond Alex Salmond is known to be a hot-headed and rebellious character

Essentially, as he put it himself: "I changed my mind."

Following the comeback, on a joint ticket with deputy Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond led the SNP to its greatest hour yet - victory at the 2007 Scottish election and delivery of a minority SNP government.

He also reinvented himself as something of a new man - at least initially.

Gone was the "Eck" of old, known to respond to tough questions in an aggressive manner - replaced with a more measured and positive, even chirpy, character.

Behind the scenes, colleagues and staff were expected to keep up with his extraordinary drive - with the old flash of the Salmond temper still putting in a public appearance.

Mr Salmond also achieved a personal victory in the election, winning the Liberal Democrat-held Scottish Parliament seat of Gordon, providing the vehicle for his return to Holyrood.

Gordon Brown, still Chancellor at the time, called Mr Salmond to congratulate him becoming first minister - four weeks after the election.

It was not long before the first predicted brush with the UK Labour government. The subject was the future of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi - who was later released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds on account of his terminal illness in the face of huge criticism from the US and others.

In a BBC interview marking his first ministerial milestone, Mr Salmond said, looking back, that the fallout of the decision resulted in "difficult days".

And despite a row at the 2012 SNP conference over it's U-turn to Nato opposition and criticism over the government's handling of the existence of EU legal advice on an independent Scotland, Mr Salmond added: "In the league table of stooshieness, the last couple of weeks is pretty minor compared to Megrahi."

As the SNP's term in government progressed, there would be many more arguments with Westminster, on topics ranging from energy policy to Treasury funding and, more recently, the terms of the independence referendum.

As the global economic meltdown took hold, Mr Salmond blamed "spivs and speculators" for the problems which caused the takeover of HBOS, as the crisis of confidence in the financial sector hit Scotland.

'Cavalier approach'

He later faced criticism from political rivals who said HBOS's real problems were caused by the bank's exposure to the volatile mortgage market.

In contrast, though, the Glasgow Airport terror attack and foot and mouth crisis showed how willing the first minister was to work with Westminster on issues of UK importance.

In 2008, Mr Salmond was accused of taking a "cavalier" approach to dealing with US tycoon Donald Trump's £1bn Scottish golf resort.

An inquiry into the affair by Holyrood's local government committee raised concern over the Scottish government's decision to call in the plans, following their rejection by Aberdeenshire Council, after "two five-minute phone calls".

The probe concluded the decision, although unprecedented, was competent. It was the classic Salmond approach to problem-solving.

Two years later, Mr Salmond came under fire for his involvement in saving the troubled international clan gathering event in Edinburgh.

The SNP was criticised for bailing out the event organisers with an interest-free taxpayer loan not widely publicised at the time.

Alex Salmond Alex Salmond was elected as an MP in 1987

In his usual style, Mr Salmond later conceded the government could have told other public bodies involved with the event about the loan, but remained defiant, insisting the action saved an event worth £10m to the economy.

Then came the 2010 UK election.

The SNP had already delivered a crushing blow to Labour, winning the Westminster seat of Glasgow East in a by-election (which Labour later re-claimed).

Mr Salmond's campaign strategy was to back a hung parliament at Westminster, combined with an ambitious plan to significantly boost the number of SNP MPs so they might hold a balance of power, when it came to making key decisions - to "make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig," as he put it.

But, in the event, with a resurgent Tory party on course for victory, Scots voters came out in their droves to back Labour.

It was also a campaign which saw the SNP unsuccessfully take the BBC to court, after it was decided Mr Salmond would not take part in the TV debate with Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

With the polls giving Labour as much as a 15-point lead, it seemed the party was on course for a return to power at Holyrood in 2011.

But, never to be underestimated, Mr Salmond - who has always relished being the underdog - launched into the contest with a positive campaign.

Enigmatic persona

When he came up against Labour's negative, attacking style, Scots voters decided there was no contest - and the SNP was returned with an overall majority.

For Mr Salmond it was a jaw-dropping result - perhaps a once-in-a-generation shift in Scottish politics, which had seen Labour as the dominant force for 50 years.

The part-PR/part-constituency system at Holyrood was essentially designed to keep any one party (ie, the SNP) from winning an overall majority.

The re-elected first minister now had a mandate for the independence referendum, to be held in autumn 2014, the terms of which have now been agreed with the UK government.

Mr Salmond's party continued in government, with its policy of resisting Westminster cuts, protecting NHS spending and Scotland's cherished universal benefits, and its claims of achievement, like cutting crime to a 30-year low.

Moira Salmond Moira Salmond is often seen supporting her husband, but the two closely protect their private lives

Opposition parties sought to portray Mr Salmond as being obsessed with winning the referendum to the point of neglecting Scotland's real social problems, while accusing him of watering down his vision of independence - on issues like keeping the pound and the monarch as head of state - to maximise the 'Yes' vote.

Away from the Holyrood chamber, the first minister has faced opposition accusations of close links with big businessmen - Stagecoach boss Brian Soutar, US tycoon Donald Trump - who later turned on Mr Salmond over his government's pro-wind farm policy - and Rupert Murdoch.

During the height of the News International phone-hacking scandal, rival parties asked why Mr Salmond was meeting the media mogul, while also demanding to know whether he himself had been a hacking victim.

The first minister insisted his relations with Murdoch were about promoting jobs for Scotland and, after weeks of questioning, he finally told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards his phone was not hacked - but that his bank account was accessed by the Observer newspaper in 1999.

Despite his style as a politician, Mr Salmond retains an enigmatic persona. He and wife Moira, who never had children, closely protect their private lives.

He is also known for his love of singing, having recorded a version of the Rowan Tree with artist Anne Lorne Gillies as part of a CD released to inspire independence.

And with opposition parties constantly quoting polls which put support for independence at about a third, could it be a case of so near, yet so far for his ultimate dream?

One thing is for sure - in a world where political leaders so often rise from within the establishment, Mr Salmond has made it with a totally unconventional approach, the like of which may not be seen again.

He would never have had it any other way.

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  53.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    Snow is falling on the #M77 again, we can see it from J3 down to J8 where it is heavier. #BeAware #winterinfo

    Traffic cameras
     
  54.  
    #ScotlandLive 12:54: Your pictures - South of Scotland

    Emily Paget(@epaget31) took this picture in Newcastleton while on a snowy walk.

    Snow on wall in Newcastleton

    David - Forking Mad (@justdaj) has posted this picture, saying: "I awoke to this :-) Looking South towards the Keir Hills, D&G".

    Snow covering Keir Hills
     
  55.  
    12:46: The real Jekyll and Hyde

    Deacon Brodie's pub at the top of the Royal Mile is a well-known Edinburgh landmark but how many people know the real story of his outrageous life and crimes?

    Deacon Brodie
     
  56.  
    @ArdrossanCRT Ardrossan Coastguard

    Reports from our friends at the @arranbanner of heavy snow on #Arran making for difficult driving conditions #staysafe

     
  57.  
    12:36: South of Scotland latest Giancarlo Rinaldi South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

    The running total for school closures in Dumfries and Galloway stands at 80 out of a total of 122.

    There are just three closed in the neighbouring Scottish Borders.

    Road conditions have been described as "dreadful" in parts of Dumfries and Galloway with tailbacks on the A75 near Carrutherstown and the A701 shut by an accident near St Ann's Bridge.

     
  58.  
    Alarm clock Sunday Kheredine Idessane BBC Scotland

    You may have to curtail your Saturday night plans so you can get up nice n early for the @AustralianOpen final, 8.30am Sun morn @andy_murray

     
  59.  
    #ScotlandLive 12:30: Your pictures - snow in Scotland

    KittyCarrott (@KittyCarrot) has sent us these pictures of her view in Stepps this morning.

    Snow picture collage

    She tweets: "Benefits of being part-time: 2hr snowy walk to school and back ❄⛄ "

    Tweet your pictures to @BBCScotlandNews, or email newsonlinescotland@bbc.co.uk.

     
  60.  
    12:26: Weather warnings: not over yet

    The Met Office has issued yellow 'be aware' warnings for all of Scotland for the remainder of Thursday and Friday.

    The warnings will remain in place for northern and western regions of the country for Saturday and Sunday.

    Severe weather warnings for UK snow and ice have been issued

    Showers of sleet, snow and hail are expected to continue through Thursday and Friday morning, with a risk of further snow in particular over higher grounds. Between 1-3cm of further snow could fall on lower levels.

    Further snow and strong winds are forecast for the north and west of Scotland on Saturday and Sunday.

     
  61.  
    12:25: School crossing attack Evening Telegraph

    An elderly lollipop man has been left 'too distressed and shaken' to return to work after a man pushed him to the ground and stole his stick.

    Footage released by West Midlands police shows the culprit crossing the road as the 82-year-old stops traffic, the thug then grabs hold of the lollipop stick dragging the man with him before he falls to the ground.

     
  62.  
    email: newsonlinescotland@bbc.co.uk 12:20: Edinburgh crash

    Ian Smithson sent us this picture of a crash on icy roads in Edinburgh.

    Crash
     
  63.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #GoodNews #M9 is now *OPEN* btw J5 & J6 after overturned cattle lorry. All animals clear from the carriageway & all lanes running #DriveSafe

     
  64.  
    12:14: Inverness flight disruption

    Inverness Airport has re-opened after snow and ice caused disruption to flights this morning.

    Inverness airport

    The closure has resulted in delays to and cancellations of a number of early morning services.

    Visit the airports website for details on the flights affected.

     
  65.  
    12:07: Tennis update - Murray goes through BBC Sport Scotland

    Andy Murray is in the final of the Australian Open.

     
  66.  
    12:05: FMQs on TV delayed

    FMQs (recorded) coverage on TV will now be delayed until 12:15 on BBC2, when the tennis will switch to BBC1 Scot. #AusOpen

     
  67.  
    12:04: Car-jacking

    A 61-year-old woman has been attacked and robbed of her car by a hooded man in the Leith area of Edinburgh.

    The incident happened at about 11:30 on Wednesday when the man approached the woman in Jane Street and asked for directions.

     
  68.  
    11:57: Question time Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    It's almost that time again. Scottish first minister's questions begins at Holyrood from noon. What might come up today? Your guess is as good as mine.

    Labour has been routinely raising the NHS, but fracking, weather and the publication (or not) of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq war may come up. A few of the MSPs might be distracted if Andy Murray's still playing - they better hope the presiding officer doesn't catch them.

    Follow First Minister's Questions live.

     
  69.  
    11:50: Creel boat skipper 'lacked necessary competence'

    A creel boat skipper missing in the North Sea with his grandson for two days has been heavily criticised by marine accident investigators.

    75-year-old Jim Reid and 35-year-old David Irvine told how they survived on just two biscuits as they got lost in fog after leaving the Aberdeenshire port of Gourdon in May last year.

    Their 16ft boat, the Water Rail, sank while being towed back to Montrose by the local lifeboat Their 16ft boat, the Water Rail, sank while being towed back to Montrose by the local lifeboat

    A huge air and sea search had been called when they were eventually rescued by a passing fishing boat 45 miles off Montrose.

    The Marine Accidents Investigation Branch says Mr Reid lacked the competence necessary to operate his boat safely. There was no radio on board and the compass was faulty.

     
  70.  
    email: newsonlinescotland@bbc.co.uk 11:46: Your pictures - Snow in Scotland

    Kevin Buchan in West Calder wonders if it is barbecue weather.

    Garden scene
     
  71.  
    11:42: Monster advertising campaign Craig Anderson BBC Scotland

    The mythical Loch Ness Monster is to take centre stage in a new £2m advertising campaign aimed at promoting the Loch Ness area to foreign visitors.

    The drive by VisitBritain will be targeted at key overseas markets.

    It aims to increase the number of international tourists to Loch Ness and other nearby places such as Inverness by 50,000 over the next four years. Inverness, Loch Ness and surrounding areas already draw about 200,000 tourists a year.

     
  72.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #M9 is *CLOSED* btwn J5 and J6 due to overturned cattle lorry. Animals are live on the route so please AVOID if possible.

     
  73.  
    11:35: Innerleithen forest rescue

    A woman was airlifted to hospital last night after being rescued in a forest near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

    Dog John & Rauour Mountain Rescue Team praised rescue dog Rauour who's sensitive nose helped locate the missing woman

    Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team was called out at around 17:00, and found the woman around three hours later.

    The woman, who was unconscious, was located around ten metres off a forest track, as weather conditions started to worsen.

     
  74.  
    11:28: Oil task force Evening Express

    Some of the world's biggest oil firms are to meet monthly in a bid to create job opportunities for workers in the North-east who have been made redundant.

    The first meeting of Scotland's Energy Jobs Taskforce, set up by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, discussed how best to safeguard jobs in the North-east oil and gas sector.

     
  75.  
    #ScotlandLive 11:24: Your pictures - snow in Scotland

    Alasdair [Alexander] (@Alasdair91): Craig Dunain, Inverness. Looking lovely! A' coimhead bòidheach an-diugh! ❄⛄

    Snow in a garden in Inverness

    Theresa Hunter Smart(@smart_theresa): Walking to work through beautiful #strathavenpark Good morning #scotland

    Strathaven Park

    Tweet your pictures to @BBCScotlandNews or email newsonlinescotland@bbc.co

     
  76.  
    11:20: Motorway incident BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    #Falkirk Reports #M9 N/B part blocked by overturned trailer between J4 A801 / A803 Lathallan and J5 A9 / A905 Cadgers Brae

     
  77.  
    @StirlingPol Stirling Police

    A82/A85 Crianlarich/Tyndrum/Bridge of Orchy. Heavy snow and roads being affected but passable with care. Is your trip necessary?

     
  78.  
    11:14: Tennis update - C'mon Andy! BBC Sport Scotland

    Andy Murray takes the third set 6-3. Leads Berdych by two sets to one.

    Live coverage of the match here.

     
  79.  
    11:10: Is my school closed?

    Take a look at this comprehensive list of sources for details of school closures by local authority area.

    BBC website list of school closures

    You may also need to check with your local authority or contact the individual school.

     
  80.  
    11:03: League Cup questions BBC Sport Scotland

    Tom English will be answering your questions on the Scottish League Cup semi-finals today. Questions already in include:

    • Should the Rangers-Celtic game be played on a Saturday?
    • Why is everyone ignoring the "other" semi-final?
    • Which teams are going to get through to the final?

    Get involved in the Q&A by posting your questions to the BBC Sport Scotland Facebook page by midday.

     
  81.  
    10:58: Carrutherstown delays Willie Johnston BBC Scotland

    There are lengthy tailbacks on the A75 around Carrutherstown.

    Slow traffic
     
  82.  
    10:54: A92 collision: Man in hospital

    A man has been taken to hospital following a collision involving a bus and two cars on the A92 Eastbound between Lochgelly and Kirkcaldy earlier this morning.

    A92 crash

    Firefighters receieved a call just at around 07:00 and safely removed the man who was trapped in one of the cars.

     
  83.  
    10:50: Highland school closures

    Clarification on Highland Council school closures: Highland Council say 18 schools and nurseries in its area are closed because of the weather.

    About 10 others have been closed to pupils who have travel by bus, or opened later to allow conditions to improve.

     
  84.  
    email: newsonlinescotland@bbc.co.uk 10:46: Your pictures - Snow in Scotland

    Mehran Haddadi in Robroyston, Glasgow, writes: I just woke up to the winter wonderland this morning!

    Snowy street
     
  85.  
    10:42: Kirkwall flights BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    Disruption to flights #Kirkwall Airport because of snow. Passengers should contact their airline. The runway has been closed for de-icing.

     
  86.  
    10:39: Tennis update BBC Sport Scotland

    Andy Murray storms back in second set. Wins 6-0. Now one set all.

    Live coverage of the match here.

     
  87.  
    10:33: Teacher numbers cause concern

    Teachers in Aberdeen are being stretched to breaking point by ongoing staff shortages, a union has warned.

    The EIS teaching union said staffing levels were now a "significant problem".

     
  88.  
    10:26: Whose windfall? Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    I've been blogging on the uneven impact of falling oil prices.

    Fuel nozzle

    Words of wisdom here.

     
  89.  
    10:18: Glasgow shooting attempted murder

    Police are treating a shooting incident in the Priesthill area of Glasgow at around 18:45 on Tuesday evening as attempted murder.

    A 37-year-old man was alone in a parked Ford Transit van in Neilston Avenue when he came under fire. Police say he wasn't injured but was badly shaken.

    Officers want to trace the occupants of a dark coloured car - believed to be a VW Passat - which was seen in the area of the shooting.

    The car was later found on fire near the entrance of Rouken Glen Golf Club.

     
  90.  
    10:13: Update: 100 schools closures

    Over 70 school closures in Dumfries and Galloway and around 30 in the Highlands.

    For the latest on the situation keep an eye on the South of Scotland live page, and local council websites.

     
  91.  
    10:08: All the latest travel updates

    For the latest on the roads visit the BBC's travel news page and keep up to date with incidents and roadworks on the motorways here.

    Around the country you can check for updates from:

     
  92.  
    10:04: Tennis update BBC Sport Scotland

    Berdych wins first set: Murray 6-7 (6-8) Berdych

    Murray loses first set

    Follow live coverage of the match.

     
  93.  
    09:58: Chiefs for Belladrum

    Leeds indie band Kaiser Chiefs will headline the Saturday night of this summer's Belladrum.

    Kaiser Chiefs

    Ricky Wilson, the group's leader singer, will follow fellow BBC The Voice coach Sir Tom Jones in performing at the event near Beauly.

     
  94.  
    09:52: Barracks threat Edinburgh Evening News

    New fears have been raised about the future of Edinburgh's Redford and Dreghorn barracks as the Ministry of Defence draws up plans to sell off property in its latest round of cost-cutting.

    Defence Secretary Michael Fallon sparked the concern with a speech hailing savings already made by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster, but warning the job was "far from over".

     
  95.  
    @RuthDavidsonMSP Ruth Davidson

    Apparently the BBC just called our press office to see if I'm ACTUALLY watching tennis. The view from my desk...

    Television
     
  96.  
    @BBCAileenClarke Aileen Clarke
    Bike

    Someone thought it too snowy for cycling in Airdrie last night#scotsnow

     
  97.  
    09:39: Fatal house blaze victim named

    An elderly woman who died in a house fire in Dumfries and Galloway on Monday evening has been named as 89-year-old Mona Stephenson.

    She was pronounced dead at the scene of the blaze in the village of Sorbie, near Newton Stewart.

     
  98.  
    09:36: Dumfries: A701 BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    A701 - Just north of Parkgate (that's between Dumfries and Beattock) - one driver says he has been stationary for 45 minutes - ambulance and helicopter have turned up.

     
  99.  
    09:33: Sport live Q&A Tom English BBC Scotland Sport

    I will be answering your questions on the Scottish League Cup semi-finals today.

    BBC Sport screengrab

    Get involved in the Q&A by posting your questions to the BBC Sport Scotland Facebook page by midday.

     
  100.  
    @GLASubwayTravel Glasgow Subway

    Inner still suspended. Stations are busier than usual but staff on hand to help.

     

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