Alex Salmond is reported to have said that he will stick it out as First Minister at least through to the next Scottish elections. The news comes as less of a surprise as the polls narrow and there remains a reasonable chance of a Yes vote.
It has always been assumed that Salmond would stay very much in charge if there was a Yes vote, but less certainty if there was a No vote. If voters on the 18th September vote No in high numbers a question mark would still hang over Salmond’s assumed supremacy over the party. Many would question whether he had got the strategy right and whether he should have taken a different path. That in turn would embolden potential party favourites, such as Alex Neil or even Michael Russell, as well as the favourite, Nicola Sturgeon, to consider their leadership chances.
As it turns out, such a scenario looks unlikely. If there is a No vote, current polling trends indicate that it will only be a victory by a narrow margin. That would leave Salmond in a slightly awkward spot – unable to deliver ultimate victory, but still with the clear backing of his party and a large swathe of the population. However, with scope for the devolution of further powers and a General Election in May, he would have sufficient mandate to seek the transfer of sweeping powers to the Scottish Parliament.
Bizarrely, the No vote also needs Salmond. If there was a narrow No vote victory, a steady, respected nationalist at the tiller (no matter how many people dislike his style) is exactly the figure that Scotland might be able to coalesce around in the immediate aftermath of the election. Salmond and Swinney would still have to present their budget an legislative proposals for 2014/15 and government life would go on. Stability would be the key, while also looking to develop a coalition around greater powers to the Parliament. The First Minister would want to make sure that he was credited with delivering these powers, many of which might not have been possible to secure without a strong Yes vote and the SNP.
Salmond, of course, is not entertaining such scenarios. Victory, he believes, is within his grasp. And, for certain, he’s not going to drop the top job if Scotland votes Yes on the 18th.