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Salmond: Against the Odds review (from the Scots Independent Nov 2010)

Reviewed by Paul Henderson Scott

Although at least two other writers are said to have been working on a biography of Alex, this is the first to appear. It is a very thorough and conscientious study, with the list of sources alone amounting to 36 pages. Since David Torrance's previous biographies have been of George Younger and Margaret Thatcher I have tended to assume that he shared their Toryism, but there is no sign of that in this book. In a note at the beginning of the book he says that Alex 'did not wish to co-operate directly, but he neither hindered my researches or made any attempt to stop me speaking to friends and colleagues'. Torrance does not reveal his own political views, but he does tell us that his father has been a member of the SNP since the mid 1960s.

The book begins with an account of Alex's childhood in Linlithgow and as a student in St Andrews University where he studied Scottish history under Professor Geoffrey Barrow, the author of Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Alex said that this was "the best book about Scottish history ever written." Years later Barrow told me that Alex had been "his star student and that it was obvious that he was going places". He clearly made a similar impression when he was working as an economist with the Royal Bank before he left to devote himself to politics and the recovery of Scottish independence.

From this point, the book is a detailed account of Alex's political career which is, I think, fair-minded and accurate. Torrance stresses Alex's formidable abilities from his maiden speech in the House of Commons, which he says was "assured, articulate and clear-minded". In the pages which follow Torrance is critical of some episodes, but these are overshadowed by his frank admiration of Alex's abilities. He says that he is "agile minded" and "exudes reason and authority". In his last chapter he says: "In company Salmond can be charming, intelligent, diverting and intriguing. He is without doubt one of the closest and most thoughtful observers of the political scene…He is, in short, an immensely attractive figure…His place in history is secure as a result of the 2007 Holyrood election, which was above all a significant personal victory." He even says that "it is tempting to liken him to Robert the Bruce". It is true, of course, that Salmond has the same objective as Bruce, to secure the independence of Scotland. But, unlike Bruce, he does not need to take arms against an invading army, but only to convince the electorate of an urgent and overwhelming need.

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