STEPHEN DAISLEY SKETCH: The old bruiser back in the Commons spotlight… with scores to settle

Alex Salmond had flown in from Berlin to appear before the Scottish affairs committee and, going by the glint in his eye, he may not have needed an aeroplane.

No one wants to find themselves in front of a Westminster select committee. It invariably means you’ve blundered or plundered or are about to go under. You’re probably ­getting a block all to yourself on the next Newsnight.

Not so Salmond. He was so thrilled to be there he could barely contain his vim. For all his nationalist ideals, he is a House of Commons man through and through. 

He loves the pomp and pageantry, the legends and the legerdemain. Through these corridors swept centuries of great men making history and canny men making mischief.

There is a pulse that runs through the place and even after all these years it makes Salmond’s heart skip a beat.

Alex Salmond appeared before the Scottish affairs committee yesterday

Committee member David Duguid billed him as ‘the recovering member for Banff and Buchan’. 

Not a chance. He’s as hooked as ever on Westminster. In the chair was Pete Wishart, who had summoned his old boss for some insight into intergovernmental relations. With Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh behind him in the public gallery, Salmond recounted in high solemnity how Tony Blair – ‘Sir Anthony Blair’ – never phoned to congratulate him on his victory 17 years ago.

He suspected Blair was ‘miffed’ about the SNP winning the 2007 Scottish parliament elections. If Blair was aware there were Scottish parliament elections in 2007, I’d be amazed. As Salmond himself noted, the man had ‘things on his mind… countries to invade’.

He tried to telegraph perfect indifference to this snub, even as he kept repeating the story.

It was the Alex Salmond show, and all the old tics and tricks were back. The practised chortles, the emphatic hand gestures, the little gasps of incredulity in response to perfectly reasonable points.

And, of course, the bombast.

He regaled MPs with a tale of how he fought off an attempt by ­Whitehall to bill the Scottish ­Government ‘tens of millions of pounds’ for security at the 2005 ­Gleneagles Summit.

He also boasted of how he’d got the UK ambassador in to see the top brass of the Chinese Communist Party during a period of

diplomatic froideur between ­London and Beijing.

He came gloriously close to taking credit for the ‘golden age’ of Sino-British relations under David Cameron.

As ever when the flashbulbs started popping, Salmond seized his chance for some score-settling. His successor’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, was not someone he would have ‘anywhere near being a senior adviser’.

He deprecated messages branding Boris Johnson a clown, because Covid-bereaved families had no interest in political spats, and demurred from John Swinney’s ­evidence to the Covid inquiry about a message deletion policy in the Scottish Government.

There was a telling moment when he was talking about a breakdown in communication between No 10 and Bute House, and he recalled that Liz Truss ‘campaigned on the issue that she wasn’t going to speak to…’ He briefly hesitated, as though having just caught himself before mentioning She Who Must Not Be Named. Instead, he went for ‘the First Minister at the time’.

The Salmond-Sturgeon psychodrama is the pettiest of the Greek tragedies. It’s like something Euri­pides might’ve dashed out for the Creative Scotland grant money.

He even, on occasion, turned his fire on people he didn’t serve with in government.

Douglas Ross tried to grill him on his involvement in the ferry contracts. Salmond pointed out that the contracts were signed the year after he stood down.

Ross pivoted to ask about his role in nationalising Ferguson Marine. Salmond reminded him that nationalisation happened four years after he stood down.

‘Two parliaments are maybe a bit exhausting, going back and ­forward,’ the old bruiser quipped.

‘Fortunately you don’t have that problem any more since you’re not sitting in either,’ Ross purred.