Scotland has produced some of the major UK politicians of the modern age. John Smith, the late Labour leader who many expected would become the next Prime Minister, died before his time in 1994 aged 55. Tony Blair (born in Edinburgh) and Gordon Brown were successive UK Prime Ministers. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff, Danny Alexander, was catapaulted to power during the 2010 Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations which resulted in a coalition government.
A prominent Scottish politician whose focus and passion is Scotland is Alex Salmond, who was born in Linlithgow. He is First Minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Member of the Scottish Parliament for Gordon. He was MP for Banff & Buchan from 1987-2010 and has been leader of the SNP in the House of Commons, thus ensuring a substantial presence and profile across the border in England. The Scottish 2007 elections led to Salmond’s party forming a minority -unlike England 3 years later the members of the Scottish Parliament were unable to negotiate a mutually satisfactory coalition. Thus the SNP, the party with the most votes, ended up ruling by default.
Danny Alexander was famously dubbed “The Ginger Rodent” by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman. The MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey became Secretary of State for Scotland once the coalition government was formed. In one of those swift moves that frequents politics he moved to the post of Chief Secretary of the Treasury when David Laws resigned. Alexander’s rise in front-line politics has been rapid - he was first elected as an MP in 2005.
Douglas Alexander (similar name, different party), an experienced Labour politician who was born in Glasgow, was first elected as an MP in 1997. He has increased his majority in each election since then and currently holds the post of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
Political fortunes rise and fall with the popularity of a party. Tony Blair crested a wave of popularity and responded to the public’s need for change in the 1997 General Election. Gordon Brown faced a public weary of New Labour when he achieved his ultimate career goal of becoming UK Prime Minister in 2007. His reign did not last long. Douglas Alexander, Labour, having spent most of his political life as part of the party in power is now relegated to the Opposition. Danny Alexander, an MP in what was always considered a party which could not achieve power, finds himself a key cog in the machinery of coalition government.
I mentioned John Smith to a friend recently and her first reaction was “who’s that?”, although prompting did elicit recollection. John Smith, the leader who time forgot, was a highly respected politician whose name has faded in political history and public memory.