Salmond might love Scotland, but certainly not her publishing industry

'What we're reading' / CC
Photograph: 'What we're reading' / CC

There’s a vast difference, so it seems to me,
Between true piety and hypocrisy:
How do you fail to see it, may I ask?
Is not a face quite different from a mask?

Moliere, Tartuffe

I received a fair amount of coverage for my comments on our late First Minister’s Memoirs. Sadly much of it missed the point I was trying to make. It is a point well worth restating. Here is a man whose income by any estimation is comfortable, and who has pinned his career to talking to the hopes, dreams and aspiration of many Scots. He has told them to stand tall, talked to them of freedom, held a referendum on exactly that subject. And yet when it comes to publishing his account of that very referendum, he simply takes the first train to London. It is a silent statement so stunning that it is astonishing the commentariat of Scotland have not picked up and run with it.

Let us be very clear. I could never have published this memoir. My views are well known and I could understand Alex Salmond having issues publishing with someone who is outspoken against the cause he stands for. To be fair, we are perfectly ecumenical in what we publish and we have authors of all political persuasions and none. However, there are many publishers in Scotland who are far more sympathetic to Alex Salmond than I. He could have changed their lives. It isn’t a question that they are not competent to sell the book. After all the bestselling book in the referendum was almost certainly In Place of Fear II by Jim Sillars, which was published by the small publisher Vagabond Voices. He could have given a Scottish publisher a place in the sun. He could have made a statement, the most direct one possible, of his faith in his country, in its businesses and in its people. He could have made the London media beat a path to Scotland’s door. But he didn’t. He appointed a London agent, took the cheque, and ran.

And who paid that cheque? This after all is the representative of a party which is challenging an old busted system, which promises a new fresh way of doing things, which is going to make Westminster jump. So who paid that cheque? Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch – a somewhat cracked trumpet for the new Scotland methinks. It does frankly beggar belief.

There comes a time when all politicians write their memoirs.When that time comes do you think that Angela Merkel will publish with a French publisher? Or Francois Hollande with an Italian? Now, of course, there is an argument to be made that William Collins is a good Scottish name. That is, though, all it is. A name. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of News International. It is based in London. Its sole connection with Scotland is a warehouse in Bishopbriggs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a remarkable publisher and I have great respect for it. But as a fit for Salmond? As a statement about Scotland? This is not actually, curiously, about Salmond’s political beliefs. I would actually have taken my hat off to him in these pages if he had published in Scotland. It is about the tawdry disconnect between his words and his actions.

There is one further mystery regarding this book. The ex-first minister is curiously silent regarding the book and the publisher. For a man normally so loquacious, the silence regarding his own work seems remarkable to me. Is even he perhaps uneasy at what he has done? Is that unease reflected in the fact that the Register of Members Interests remains silent as to the sums he has received for this work?

Publishing works in a simple way – an author receives money on signature of a contract, on delivery, and on publication. Clearly the first two have taken place and the third is imminent. So why is the record so empty of what he received for his efforts? Could he just be a little embarrassed at the size of Mr Murdoch’s cheque? It would be a simple matter to set all our minds at rest by telling us what exactly he got. Why won’t he? Still one has to have a sneaking admiration. Having cost the Scottish taxpayer millions of pounds to lose a referendum, it is a comment on his business acumen that he is able to turn a few bob from his own failure. One has to applaud the chutzpah if nothing else.

What does it say then? There are three very disturbing things I think. Firstly, it speaks of utter contempt for the cause he claims to espouse. His country isn’t good enough for him. Secondly, it bespeaks simple greed for the large advance. And thirdly, it shows quite incredible arrogance. He thinks nobody cares. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps the SNP have achieved that nirvana for any political party of being able to heap any degree of betrayal and hypocrisy on their followers to be rewarded with ever more fervent adulation. I have enough faith in my countrymen that one by one they will start to ask the questions too long unasked of this movement and its leaders.

There is really only one simple phrase that I hope is thrown at our late first minister every day between now and the general election. It’s a simple resonant phrase. It is one he cannot answer:

‘Bought and Sold for English Gold’

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Hugh Andrew 7 Articles
Managing Director of the Scottish publishing house Birlinn Limited.

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