18 November 2014

First Minister’s Statement (Response)


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Alexander Elliott Anderson Salmond was born to privilege—not the privilege of rank, not the privilege of money, not the privilege of connections, but the overwhelming privilege of being a black bitch. For those who do not understand the term, that is the appellation for people who are born in Linlithgow. The black bitch that is on the town’s crest carries beneath it the motto, “Fidelis”, which means “faithfulness”, and Alex has been a faithful servant of this Parliament and of this country.

Alex was born with the privilege of caring and nurturing parents and the privilege of a free education, to liberate his potential—the foundations of his ambitions for all our people. From day 1, he was a disruptive influence—being born on hogmanay, he could hardly be otherwise. The parties were somewhat subdued on that particular day. He has been a potent agent for change. His life has been and will remain in the public gaze, but not everything is known, so—

Alex, as sons will do, left the family home, and his mother Mary breathed a great sigh of relief as a certain calm fell over 101 Preston Road, Linlithgow. However, it would be a few years before Alex finally departed. His mother, fed up with his still occupying an entire room in the house, moved all the political impedimenta that he had accumulated, in its many boxes and disorder, into the front garden, and phoned him to remind him that she lived a mere 300m from Linlithgow’s recycling centre. Strangely, the garden was soon restored to its natural order, and Mary and Robert had the room in their house back. So, when we read his autobiography—I have the money to buy it waiting here now—we should remember its genesis in that front garden.

Alex’s grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, who equipped him with the ability to construct a story, tell a story and seize the imagination.

In May 1961, John F Kennedy committed his country to landing a man on the moon before the decade was out and to returning him safely to earth. It was not known that that could be done and it was not known how it would be done, but Kennedy knew that it had to be done. Alex comes from that mould. He is a formidable leader and a formidable challenger of the status quo. He is a man who sets the rest of us formidable challenges. He is the toughest boss I have ever worked for or with, and the fairest, and he is a team builder. But, however tough he might have been on me or on the rest of us, he has always been tougher on himself. A driven man building on the achievements of our previous three First Ministers, he has raised the bar still further for our next First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Alex has always been conscious that we are all here—Parliament, office, life—for but a short passage of time and, hence, that everything is about people. For me, two events illustrate that: one from the referendum campaign and one an echo from a previous campaign. Some 15 years earlier, when I was driving him round Scotland—yes, I used to be Alex Salmond’s driver—we came up an incline and found someone lying in the middle of the road with a beating heart but a tortured mind. Alex was first out of the car to help that person in their distress. Our plans for the day were put on hold until we had returned that person to their family, he had listened to their story and offered help. He gave not a thought for his personal safety on that busy road or for the day’s political objectives.

During the referendum campaign that has so recently passed, the most telling moment for me—if, perhaps, not for others—was when Alex met a young man who came up to him and explained politely that he was voting no. Alex did not seek to belittle that young man; he softly regretted the decision that he had made but shook his hand, held his hand and listened to him. If we learn anything from Alex, it is that we must listen, perhaps especially to those with views that differ from our own, however much we do not want to hear them.

Of course, whatever we say to Alex this afternoon, we speak of transition, not of an ending. First Minister’s questions will be different and Nicola Sturgeon will put her own stamp on them as Scotland’s new leader. We will miss Alex’s irritated flick behind the right ear when he judges that the question from the benches to his left is more inadequate than usual. We shall miss his careful checking of the wallet in the hip pocket when he has had a question from the benches to his right. We shall miss his checking that his jacket pocket flaps are out as he remembers his spouse’s commands for the day.

I say to Alex, our First Minister—perhaps the last time that I shall address him thus—whatever the future may hold, take from all of us our good wishes, our thanks and our love.


Stewart Stevenson
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