BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 17 NOV 2011


A few days before Alex Salmond delivered to the party faithful in Glasgow, BBC2 ran a programme about celebrities’ favourite Scots words. Gallus* and bamboozle* featured. Both are archetypally spot-on Scottish. Gallus, which means bold and mischievous, is short, sharp, swaggering and wide. Bamboozle, to confuse or mislead, is alliterative, assertive and humorous.

Salmond is definitely gallus. He has a good conceit of himself today and always has had. He would hate to know it, but he has a similar self-satisfied smirk to George Osborne. Both should work hard to lose it; both do, actually. Salmond is “mair gallus” now he is master of all he surveys. And of his brief, as this keynote showed. If you can’t abide watching all the way through, and I know plenty Scots who can’t, just fast-forward to the last three minutes. The peroration has one thing: vision. Salmond can see the future and it is Scottish; he is using all his oratorical powers to ensure his fellow Scots see it, too. Salmond has to be careful not to overstep, though, since many Scots already believe that “if he was chocolate he would eat himself.” If you go too far down that road you become suspected of being a Smart-Alex, of trying to bamboozle your fellow Scot. We can be thrawn* at the best of times and never more when we see a fellow Scot on the make. See that Alex Salmond? Ah kent his faither*.

I can throw a few scraps the way of political opponents and those of no party who are not keen on him. Salmond is reading a bit more than he would like to be in the first ten minutes or so and this makes the delivery less extemporaneous than he is capable of. Then there is the recycled joke about William Hague charging fees for whisky receptions held in embassies. Not a peep from the audience as that one had done the rounds for too long, as he’d delivered it before at the Hugo Young lecture. That one was a bit insulting to your audience, big chap. Then there was, in true George Osborne style, too much self-congratulation with the laugh at his (recycled) joke. This would have been easily fixed, by the way, by simply prefacing the remark with, “As I said in London recently, they charge for these events. But William Hague is a fourteen pints of lager man, so maybe he didn’t know…”.

But overall, if one is analysing the quality of the oratory rather than the policy detail, which is not my thing, then that’s about it. Reading too much at the beginning and re-using an old laugh-line. I will leave it to others to read the runes and do their thing with the politics, but as an orator Alex Salmond is peerless today in Scotland, and the UK.

Joanne Lamont is finding her feet and seems like a nice, collegiate type. In fact her well considered party political broadcast and conference keynote confirmed as much. Ruth Davidson is feisty, and can be gallus herself; she appears to be well up for it but has her party to fight. Michael Moore is steady and likeable and authentic; he’s not a bad speaker but he’s no orator, and lacks an X factor. Alasdair Darling was in the press today saying lang may yer lum reek* for the Union; he’s credible and knows his stuff, but Salmond will not be feart* of Darling. Alex Salmond is a leader, for sure; and that is no more in evidence than on the big stage. His big face fills the screen, his presence dominates the lectern and his voice asserts dominion over those who hear it both inside and outside the conference hall. The voice is distinctly Scottish and unmistakeably Salmond. It can, in a sentence, start low and slow, finishing in a loud, aggressive flourish. Or it might be quiet and intimate, drawing you in, ending in a rattling list of facts or statistics. It can be deadly serious, pragmatic and academic in one breath, mocking and sarcastic the next. He also uses humour as both a rapier and a broadsword. I am sure his doctors worry about his size, but it gives him presence behind the podium; just look at others when you get the chance to see what I mean.

Look at the section from nine to thirteen minutes and see all of the above in action, as he gets tore right intae* the opposition as well as listing Scottish business success and then name-checking Barbara Streisand and Beyonce. The rhythm of the sentences; the power of three used often; statistics juxtaposed with stories; and lists, always little lists.

And honestly? If the sundry opposition do not marshal their forces soon, the ba’s on the slates* for the Union.

Glossary of terms…

Ah kent his faither: I knew his father (I know where he comes from, and he’s getting too big for his boots)
Bamboozle: to cheat, mislead or confuse.
Feart: Afraid (probably didn’t need to do this one…)
Gallus: bold, daring, rash, wild, unmanageable, impish, mischievous, cheeky
Lang may yer lum reek: may you live long and prosper
The ba’s on the slates: they think it’s all over…it is now
Thrawn: stubborn, perverse, crooked, twisted
Tore right intae: giving opponents a good seeing-to


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