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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    There will be some rather posh Christmas dinners on tables in Aberdeenshire this year.

    Pheasants in the snow

    An alliance of gamekeepers, estates, local councillors, charities and volunteers will be delivering game to vulnerable people in their communities, in an effort to tackle rural poverty.

    One estate, Tillypronie, will supply pheasants, while Balmoral will donate logs and vegetables. One gamekeepers' shooting syndicate will also offer venison.

     
  44.  
    10:18: Council agrees £42.8m of savings

    A package of savings totalling £42.8m over four years has been agreed by Highland Council.

    The cuts include a reduction, but modernisation, of the local authority's gritter fleet and the loss of 60 secondary school teaching posts. Cutting 15 other secondary teaching jobs and reducing the time P4-7 pupils spend in class have been delayed.

    Money

    Councillors voted on the package at a meeting of the full council in Inverness on Thursday. It involves £17.4m savings in 2015/16, £10.2m in 2016/17, £6.3m in 2017/18 and £8.9m in 2018/19.

    The public sector union Unison has said the savings will lead to the loss of 700 jobs across council departments. The council said 312 full-time posts will be lost over the four years. It will seek to avoid compulsory redundancies.

     
  45.  
    10:10: On the roads BBC Scotland Travel Latest
    • There are very tricky driving conditions because of snow on the A93 Braemar to Spittal of Glenshee
    • It is the same on the A9 at Dalwhinnie where one southbound lane is also blocked by a broken-down car transporter near Auchterarder
    • Police in Glenrothes have been in touch warning of black ice on main and side roads across Fife, especially in north east Fife, they say there have been about a dozen accidents so take care
    • And there are wind warning across many of the bridges, the A87 Skye, A9 Dornoch and Kessock, A90 Forth road and the A898 Erskine Bridges all with wind warnings so drive carefully
     
  46.  
    10:04: Wickerman founder seriously injured

    The co-founder of the Wickerman Festival is in a critical condition in hospital after being found badly injured at his farm.

    Jamie Gilroy

    Jamie Gilroy was found with a serious head injury on the farm at Dundrennan, near Kirkcudbright, on Thursday.

    Police Scotland are investigating, but said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.

    The Wickerman Festival has been held at Mr Gilroy's East Kirkcarswell farm for 13 years.

     
  47.  
    09:58: Oil recovery starts here

    Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told BBC Scotland: "The measures that were taken on tax and also the creation of the new oil and gas authority, all of those I think send a broader message which is that the government and the industry are now working hand in hand to make sure that we can absolutely maximise the recovery of resources."

     
  48.  
    09:53: Time to slope off

    Today marks the silver anniversary of the opening of the Nevis Range snow sports area.

    Nevis Range

    Marian Austin, managing director of Nevis Range, has been there since it opened and she spoke to BBC Scotland about attracting people to ski in Scotland.

    She said: "People are always really keen at this time of year to get their skis on for the first time, so if we get a nicer day tomorrow we'll certainly be trying to get open.

    "We don't pretend that we're competing with Europe but what we have is skiing on people's doorstep."

     
  49.  
    09:46: Death driver avoids prison

    A woman who knocked down and killed a pensioner after she was "distracted" by loud music playing in her car has been told to carry out unpaid work.

    Anna McCallum, 23, crashed into 79-year-old John Gordon Sangster on Baltic Street, Montrose, as he stepped out to cross the road in December 2012.

    McCallum, of Johnshaven, Aberdeenshire, admitted causing death by careless driving at Forfar Sheriff Court.

    A community payback order with 240 hours of unpaid work was imposed.

    Sheriff Gregor Murray also banned the first offender from driving for four years.

     
  50.  
    09:39: Oil industry- government reaction

    The chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander has said the government is doing all it can to boost the industry.

    danny alexander

    Mr Alexander said: "It is very, very important to send a message out to investors around the world that the North Sea is open for business, that it's a great place to invest and that there are huge opportunities on the UK continental shelf still."

     
  51.  
    09:32: Llambias takes lower salary

    Rangers have told the Stock Exchange that new chief executive Derek Llambias' salary will be "significantly lower than previously offered for this position".

    Rangers chief executive Derek Llambias

    The Scottish Championship club made the announcement of Llambias' appointment to the Stock Exchange ahead of Monday's annual general meeting.

    Englishman Llambias, 58, a former managing director of Newcastle United, joined Rangers' board as a non-executive director in November.

    The SFA announced last week that it was investigating Newcastle owner Mike Ashley's role at Ibrox.

     
  52.  
    09:21: Victoria Cross tribute

    A special ceremony is to take place in Dumfries for the first soldier from the region to receive the Victoria Cross during World War One.

    James Mackenzie

    A commemorative paving stone will be unveiled - and a wreath laid - in memory of Pte James Mackenzie.

    Relatives will attend along with representatives of the British Legion and Scots Guards Association.

    Pte Mackenzie was the first of five servicemen from Dumfries and Galloway awarded the VC during World War One.

     
  53.  
    09:13: Oil job losses

    Oil companies will shed around 5% of their workforce because of the price slump, Sir Ian Wood believes.

    Sir Ian Wood

    He said "I'm going say 5% to 10% but hopefully, as the oil price recovers and reinvestment emerges in what should be a better climate, we'll get these jobs back.

    "My view right now is that we will probably stay at $60, $65, $70 (a barrel) and at that stage it's probably about 5%."

     
  54.  
    Text 80295 09:04: Now on Morning Call BBC Radio Scotland

    Kaye Adams asks: Is the oil crash good news or bad news for you and Scotland? And, with warnings over 'Black Eye Friday', do we need to be told how to behave at Christmas?

    Listen to the show live here and text us your views on 80295.

     
  55.  
    08:55: Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    tweets: Peterhead power station fails to secure contract as back-up for grid shortfalls. Owner SSE says there are other market options for it

     
  56.  
    08:47: Minister in maternity leave first

    Scotland's children's minister has become the first member of the Holyrood government to take maternity leave.

    Children and Young People Minister Aileen Campbell

    Aileen Campbell, whose last day in the job was on Thursday, is being covered by fellow SNP MSP Fiona McLeod, until she returns.

    Ms Campbell, who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant, is expecting her second child.

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said supporting parental leave was vital to "shattering the glass ceiling".

     
  57.  
    08:40: More Sir Ian Wood

    Sir Ian Wood believes the oil industry will emerge from its current problems.

    He said: "If we play this correctly, the next 18 months will be tough but by that time we should begin to see some uplift in the oil price.

    "The industry should be leaner and a bit meaner and in better shape with the tax regime and new regulator to try and springboard a good recovery."

     
  58.  
    08:35: All the gossip

    Celtic will reject any "insulting" offer they may receive from Crystal Palace for Kris Commons in the January transfer window.

    kris commons

    New Livingston manager Mark Burchill says he has enlisted the help of former Celtic bosses Martin O'Neill and Kenny Dalglish in his attempt to plot a win over Rangers in the Scottish Championship.

    Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has praised Shay Logan for the manner in which the defender conducted himself during the case against Celtic winger Aleksandar Tonev, who was accused of racially abusing the Englishman.

    It's another day of Scottish football gossip and you can read our full review here.

     
  59.  
    08:30: Court video 'is a gimmick'

    There has been criticism of new proposals for victims and witnesses to pre-record video statements rather than give evidence in court.

    video camera

    Brian McConnachie QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme he was not convinced by the idea, which he described as "a bit of a gimmick".

    He said: "The suggestion is that, somehow or other, witnesses will not have to attend court. I don't see how that works because they will still require, if the evidence is controversial, to be cross-examined."

     
  60.  
    08:24: Oil industry latest

    Sir Ian Wood has said it is very important to "keep a perspective" about the North Sea oil situation, although it is inevitable that jobs will be lost.

    He said: "It's going to be a tough time. There will be a slow-down in investment. It's probable there will be some loss of offshore production, perhaps up to 10% at $60 to $65 a barrel.

    "There will be sadly the loss of a number of jobs because in these circumstances oil companies and supply chains do everything they can to cut back on costs and get some kind of positive cash flow."

     
  61.  
    08:21: Sir Ian Wood: It's over the top

    Oil industry expert Sir Ian Wood has said talk of a North Sea crisis is "well over the top and frankly far too dramatic"

    Sir Ian Wood

    Sir Ian told BBC Radio 5Live: "This is an industry that thinks and invests long term.

    "Investment decisions are made on the anticipated price of oil two to three years down the road.

    "And of course right now there's really significant momentum in the industry, a big investment programme in the last few years, some new fields coming on stream and also some fields recently given the go ahead which will go ahead."

     
  62.  
    08:06: No appeal over spitting ban

    Dundee United will be unable to appeal against Paul Paton's two-match ban for spitting at Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes, the Scottish FA has confirmed.

    Dundee United's Paul Paton and Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes

    That is despite United having vowed to contest Thursday's decision by an independent judicial panel.

    It found the 27-year-old midfielder guilty despite wide-man Hayes having claimed his opponent was innocent.

    The SFA has confirmed there is no route of appeal in their fast-track judicial system for Paton.

     
  63.  
    08:00: Pakistan massacre tribute

    Glasgow City Council will fly the flag of Pakistan at half-mast from the City Chambers today in a show of support following the Peshawar school massacre.

    Jahangir Hanif and school scene

    The attack by the Pakistani Taliban at the Army Public School on Tuesday killed 132 school children and nine staff and injured 125 others.

    Two grand-nephews of Glasgow Southside Central SNP councillor Jahangir Hanif were among the dead.

    The attack was to avenge Pakistan army-led operations against the Taliban.

     
  64.  
    07:56: 'Work together'

    Experts are warning that tumbling oil prices have left the North Sea oil industry "close to collapse".

    James Bream, of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, says the oil industry and government need to work together.

    oil rig

    He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We need to see continued leadership on cost. We also need to see some significant moves on taxation in the North Sea."

     
  65.  
    07:46: Wrap up warm BBC Scotland Weather Latest

    There is a Met Office yellow "be aware" warning for snow showers and ice affecting the Highlands and Grampian as well as highland Perthshire. Expect some difficult driving conditions on the high road routes.

    It will be a cold, windy day with plenty of blustery showers, most frequent across northern and western Scotland.

    The showers will fall as snow over high ground and to lower levels in some areas. They also bring a risk of thunder, especially across the far north.

    Fewer showers and more sunshine across the Borders, Angus and eastern Aberdeenshire and there is widespread ice risk north of the Central Belt.

    It will feel bitterly cold in the strong westerly wind, with gales along western and northern coasts touching severe gale force at times.

     
  66.  
    07:40: North Sea 'crisis'

    Labour's energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald has said he believes there is a crisis in the oil and gas industry.

    Mr Macdonald told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We are facing a critical situation. There are perhaps 1,000 jobs already gone, there are thousands more jobs on the line.

    "Yes, this is a crisis for the industry. It's not a crisis that can be controlled directly by government on its own. Clearly some of this is a consequence of global oil prices and global market shifts.

    "The responsibility of government is to respond urgently, address the issues that are raised and give some sense of confidence to people who are working in the oil and gas industry."

     
  67.  
    07:35: Rangers name Llambias as chief executive BBC Sport Scotland

    Rangers have confirmed to the Stock Exchange the appointment of existing board member Derek Llambias as their new chief executive.

    Derek Llambias arrives at Ibrox for talks
     
  68.  
    07:31: On the ferries BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    Quite a bit of disruption on the ferries today. Best advice is to check ahead before you travel.

    • On Cal Mac's Barra and South Uist service, the 07:40 Barra sailing and the 14:30 out of Oban to the islands are cancelled
    • No sailings to Colonsay
    • Skye, that's Armadale to Mallaig off as well
    • No sailings to the Small Isles from Mallaig
    • The morning sailings to Islay are off
    • Today's Arran sailings are under review and quite a few are on amber alert
    • Orkney ferries has cancelled today's North Ronaldsay sailing, its rescheduled for tomorrow leaving Kirkwall at 09;00
    • On Northlink there is some disruption between Aberdeen and Lerwick, the 17:00 sailing from Aberdeen will sail directly to Kirkwall, but may face delays
    • The 19:00 sailing from Aberdeen to Lerwick is under review and the 17:30 from Lerwick is cancelled
    • And there is possible disruption on Argyll ferries between Gourock and Dunoon
     
  69.  
    07:27: Oil industry crunch

    Experts are suggesting that the oil industry will cope better with the current downturn than expected.

    Total's north sea oil rig

    It comes as some oil and gas companies are cutting staff and investment due to low oil prices and a warning from a senior industry expert that some North Sea projects would not be viable if prices fell below $60 a barrel.

    Prof Gordon Hughes, a former energy adviser at the World Bank, said that the industry is used to dealing with an unpredictable market.

    He said: "The oil price is notoriously volatile, its gone up and down for the past 50 years.

    "We are going through a bad part of the down cycle but most companies have enough money and enough sense to realise that they have to look at the medium or longer term rather than simply where the price is at today."

     
  70.  
    07:18: Court on camera

    Victims and witnesses could pre-record video statements rather than giving evidence in court under radical new proposals being considered by the Scottish Court Service (SCS).

    Courtroom

    The BBC understands the concept is being actively explored by the judiciary and the SCS.

    The aim is to avoid wasting witnesses' time and speed up trials.

    Legal experts have raised concerns and warned it should not be a substitute for cross-examining witnesses in court.

     
  71.  
    07:11: What the papers say

    The Scotsman leads with the Scotland Yard investigation into an alleged paedophile ring involving high profile people and its link to three murders.

    The National says a Westminster civil servant is facing a "referendum 'bias' probe".

    And The Daily Record has the story of a young woman who lost her unborn baby after her partner punched her.

    Composite

    See the rest of today's front pages here.

     
  72.  
    07:05: House prices on the up

    House prices in Scotland will increase by 4% next year, a new report predicts.

    house for sale

    Recent changes to stamp duty legislation are expected to boost the market, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) 2015 housing forecast.

    The report says demand for property continuing to outstrip supply is another reason to expect prices to go up.

    It also predicts a 2.1% increase in rents north of the border.

     
  73.  
    07:00: Paul McLaren BBC Scotland News

    Good morning and welcome to Friday's Scotland Live, where we will bring you all the latest news, sport, travel and weather between now and 19:00.

     

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