By chance – I was doing other things beforehand and walked into the room not because I was looking out for it – I caught the last eight minutes of yesterday’s appearance of former SNP leader Alex Salmond in the ‘main interview’ (0945 hours onwards) slot on The Andrew Marr Show.
In the overall scheme of these things, he’s an enjoyable watch irrespective of what you think of him as an individual or his political creed. As a politician he has something of the bloke-ish small screen charm of Michael Heseltine, Boris Johnson, Alan Johnson and Ken Clarke about him – I’m talking as opposed to the vacuous, oozing, smarmy, cod-populist, snake-oil salesman-patter (“Ask me a question and I’ll talk for ten minutes on an entirely different subject anyway”) style of the likes of Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Chuka Ummana, Mathew Hancock and Ed Miliband.
At least Salmond gives the appearance of listening to the questions being put to him by the interviewer and then seemingly attempting to answer them – and ‘giving the appearance of connecting with the person in front of him’ is the key to coming across favourably to those of us at the other end of our own home-housed cathode ray tubes.
Yesterday Marr was doing his best to prise out Salmond’s impeding tactics were he (and perhaps fifty-plus other SNP candidates) to be returned to Westminster as MPs come 7th May.
Would he enter into a formal coalition with Ed Miliband, e.g. if Labour was to top the poll, but without an overall majority? If so, what would be the SNP’s price for entering into one? What if Ed Miliband refused to enter into as coalition with the SNP, or indeed Ed Balls (as Chancellor) called the supposed SNP bluff and took the line “Sorry, I’m putting through a Labour economic plan and you can eff off [or words to that effect] …”?
Salmond had either prepared himself well and/or thought quickly on his feet.
He replied that the SNP would be only too happy to enter into a formal coalition arrangement with Labour. If Miliband was foolish enough to rule one out in such circumstances, then as second best Salmond would be content to negotiate on a piece by piece basis.
“Surely this would result in chaos?” asked Marr.
Not so, said Salmond, pointing out that he’d run a pretty successful minority government at Holyrood for four years – during which he’d had to negotiate piecemeal with Labour MSPs, Lib-Dem MSPs and even Conservative MSPs (either at different times or every time), simply in order to get any of his policies through the Scottish Parliament at all. It was hard work, tough to compromise, and so on … but he – and they – had all been obliged to get their hands dirty in order to achieve anything. At it had worked, after a fashion. Why could this not happen at Westminster?
It might even have to.
“So you’d force Labour to abandon Trident?” thrust Marr.
Salmond looked calmness personified. He suggested that he’d rather see that amount of money spent upon initiatives to help the poorest in society and he was confident that large swathes of (the ‘real’, i.e. left of centre) Labour Party would be totally in favour of scrapping Trident.
He certainly didn’t seek to water down or hide the fact that the SNP rump in Westminster in the new Parliament would be batting for Scotland and Scottish interests alone.
“What about the implications for the way the UK is run?” asked Marr.
Salmon sought to pour oil on troubled waters. He referred to the distrust with which ordinary voters viewed politicians and he suggested it would be an advance if, instead of the two main parties block-voting and ‘managing’ the passage of legislation as they had for decades, each item was considered on its merits and from all angles, including those of a range of minority parties. The landscape of British politics was changing – why be afraid of this?
Eventually, as they always do, Marr’s principal guests of the day (Salmond and Tory MP Anna Soubry) ended up facing him on the studio sofa together, for a couple of minutes before somebody finished the programme with the traditional song.
This was the most riveting segment of the entire programme, because Soubry – upon being asked by Marr if she’d heard Salmond’s interview – replied that she had and then launched into an angry tirade against virtually everything Salmond had said, claiming it was outrageous that the party which had lost the Scottish referendum vote was now planning to systematically bugger up the smooth running of the United Kingdom, which it didn’t even want to be in.
Salmond took it all in his stride. The more wound up and chippy La Soubry became, the more he spoke softly, deferentially and some might say reasonably … thereby making her come across as increasingly like a shouting, frothing-at-the-mouth, late period Mrs Thatcher.
They were beginning to get rather heated as Marr struggled to intervene, regain order and throw the camera across to the studio singer.
Sad, that – I’d have much preferred to watch another ten minutes’ worth of Soubry trying to throttle Alex Salmond.