Alex Salmond’s book the Dream Shall Never Die is his autobiographical account of the last 100 days of the independence referendum campaign. It is a blow-by-blow, Salmond-eye view on meetings, campaigning, phone calls and tactics of the Yes campaign. Like you might expect, rather than giving away too many secrets, this book is honest but carefully crafted to paint the right picture of the First Minister, with very typical poetic references in which the former FM draws upon his personal life, Scottish history and art. A typical example is his reference to his first spark of Nationalism sitting on his grandpa’s knee as a young boy.
However one looks at this book, what cannot be doubted is that he worked tirelessly and was genuinely moved by the whole Yes movement and the referendum. Although he felt the Sunday Times Yes 51- No 49 YouGov poll came too early for the campaign, he believed a Yes vote was very possible right up until the final hours until a secret exit poll indicated that the dream was fading– for now. Like many across Scotland, he knew it was over when the first result came in from Clackmannanshire, but at that point he had to begin writing his speech to concede the referendum.
The TV Debates
Salmond is clear about the first TV debate with Alistair Darling – “I lost”. He expresses doubt about the “ring readiness” of his debate team and the “unanimous advice to tone down (his) debating style”. His reason for losing is clear, “I allowed myself to be persuaded to act out of character”.
In the second debate, he streamlines his debating team, keeping special advisors, Tasmina Sheikh and Nicola Sturgeon in the practice room with Duncan Hamilton playing Alistair Darling. He reverts to his usual style for the second debate, focusing on job-creating powers and he concludes that it “plays out very well indeed”.
The powers of Lucozade on the second debate poses questions on whether he has struck up a sponsorship deal! He goes in to the debate “swinging” “perhaps down to Lucozade” and finishes a whole bottle in one go following the debate victory.
The helicopter, restaurants and golf courses
The First Minister explains his battle with the 5-2 diet during the campaign, and it is clear from the book that he has a passion for food and Scotland’s best restaurants. Ondines, the George Hotel in Edinburgh, the Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen, Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, Glenneagles and more, are namechecked and much loved by the First Minister. Travelling to as many venues as possible required a helicopter, and he often refers to his fondness of these trips from the air and his disappointment when he has to say good bye to his pilot for the last time. He laughingly imagines a “ScotForce One” for an independent Scotland as he travels to France. He was the First Minister and the venues are befitting of high office, but the quantity of visits to luxury locations will undoubtedly trigger his critics to further paint him as a champagne socialist.
The discussion of golf also features heavily. He describes the few rounds he has during the campaign as his way to stay sane. In one chapter, he describes the news of receiving the Sunday Times/YouGov poll just after his “drive just shades off the green before landing in a depression to the left”. Not realising the 51-49 poll is in the Yes side’s favour, and still on the golf course, he says: “I’m turning off the phone, I’ll speak to you when I finish the round”, to the breathless Geoff Aberdein. It’s a dramatic scene, worthy of a Hollywood script, but this is Alex Salmond we are talking about – he has a knack for dramatic flair.
Throughout the account, Salmond seethes over the BBC’s coverage of the referendum and is in regular contact with the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall to criticise the Beeb’s approach – which he consistently describes as ‘Auntie’. Andrew Neil comes in for some praise as Salmond says his bias is clear, unlike the more shady approach of the Beeb at large.
In the final sections, he recalls that the BBC “sent up their London heavies to replay all the stories hanging about the referendum over the previous months.” He describes his tussle with one of their “heavies”, Nick Robinson, when the journalist got “rather agitated” during the press conference at the EICC when he questioned the First Minister on the impact of RBS moving its ‘base’ from Scotland.
His anger over the RBS leak from the Treasury rises from the pages. He describes his efforts and difficulty in turning the story around. The splashes of drama continue as he describes late-night speech writing with staff at Bute House with a “large whisky” and the robust, “combative mood” he brings to battle the RBS story.
Plans for the 19th September
The plans for the first day in an independent Scotland had been worked out and Salmond had spent time with Mark Carney seeking advice on the creation of the Scottish Monetary Authority in the wake of a Yes vote. Statements from the UK Government, market statements from the Scottish Government and the announcement of the membership of a Scottish Monetary Authority were set for the 19 September. Instead, Salmond describes Cameron as a “silly arrogant man”, as he stood outside Downing Street and laid out that “Scottish reform must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as changes in England.” There was never any love lost between the two leaders.
Salmond sets the scene for the future at Westminster and Holyrood. He heaps praise onto Nicola Sturgeon, criticises weasel words in the Government’s Smith Commission command paper, stresses the need to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire with strong SNP representation and explains that Jim Murphy’s “sole contribution to the campaign (was) to complain about being egged.”
This book will be poured over by journalists and polticos in the weeks to come, and there will be ripples from the honest descriptions within it.
Ultimately, it is a carefully edited, politically savvy, rose-tinted and misty-eyed record of the 100 days in the run-up to the referendum. It’s an entertaining read, but serves a purpose – to set the scene for the next step in the dream that shall never die for Alex Salmond.