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20 November 2014

What we can learn from Alex Salmond

What we can learn from Alex Salmond

Photo credit: Scottish government via Creative Commons

Scottish politics continues in a state of flux following the referendum result and this week has seen Nicola Sturgeon installed as the new first minister, making history by being the first woman to hold this role. Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted through the appointment, and Tuesday saw Alex Salmond's final full day in office, unveiling a plaque of his most famous quote (a reworked Burns: "the rocks will melt with the sun before tuition fees are imposed on Scottish students") and somewhat fittingly fulfilling his final engagement by attending the Scotland v England match in Glasgow.

The change of top leadership in government is significant at any time, but this time perhaps has added importance. Alex Salmond is Scotland's longest-serving first minister and has been the towering figure of Scottish and (arguably British) politics over recent years, and in the young history of the Scottish Parliament has led the government for almost half of its 15-year existence. To give an indication of his longevity, when he became leader of the SNP, Tony Blair was prime minister, Michael Howard led the Conservatives and Charles Kennedy the Lib Dems. If you were to include his first spell as SNP leader those names can be replaced by Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown.

During this time the SNP has gone from being a fringe party to majority party of government, persuaded 45 per cent of the Scottish population to back its cause in the recent referendum and become the third largest UK party with a membership greater than the Liberal Democrats and UKIP combined. By any fair standards this is a remarkable achievement. It is not inconceivable that in the 2015 General Election this could be reflected in the number of seats won and the irony of a party that does not want to be part of the UK holding a balance of power in the event of a hung parliament.

While politically there are both positive and negative outcomes from the Salmond administration, on a personal and leadership level there are lessons to be learned for Christians as Scotland's longest serving First Minister exits the stage.

One all-consuming passion

Alex Salmond is known for one issue and one issue only. He has dedicated his life to his cause and in doing so has persuaded nearly half of his country-folk of its merits. Single-minded focus and passion was one of the features of the Yes campaign and one that left Better Together often scrambling to respond. Are we known for one passion and one passion only?


The Scottish cabinet has hardly changed in seven years, with most senior roles occupied by those who were appointed in 2007. In an age of well-trailed reshuffles, celebrity fads and personal scandals these have been almost entirely lacking in the Scottish government. In the Church are we chasing the latest fad or technique and getting caught up in consumerism, or are we valuing the daily discipleship of taking up our cross and building long term character and a deeper relationship with God?


Almost as unheard of as the political longevity and stability is the success of the succession plan, with Nicola Sturgeon being mentored for 10 years to take on this role. This is a remarkable example of mentoring. What could the impact be on the Church and nation if every Christian decided they were going to mentor someone for this length of time?


Finally, there is the issue of leadership. The ability to inspire, think strategically (with every decision based on one long term goal) and carry people with you has been one of the hallmarks of the SNP and Yes campaign. Scotland needs a generation of Christian leaders who are able to do this, both in the Church but also across key areas of society. As a generation is politically inspired in a way not seen before, could we see that same passion expressed spiritually, not for or against independence, but this time for the far superior cause of Christ?