It can be hard when you retire. I wouldn’t know much about this. I’m due to retire in 2052. However, in some ways, it can be more difficult for career politicians. You’re at the top of your game. You’ve self-actualised. Where do you go from there? You can’t usually improve upon ‘democratically elected leader of free Western nation’ on your CV.
Well, for some politicians the post-retirement options can vary. Usually, once the biographical memoirs are published, you’ve justified your actions, slandered you enemies and tried to secure your position in history, you have a number of choices.
You could disappear into obscurity. After some years in the unblinking public eye, this could be a very attractive option. David Cameron was spotted eating fish and chips in Cornwall a few weeks after resigning as Prime Minister. The press screamed that he’d fallen from grace, but he looked quite content and happy to me. Margaret Thatcher staged a few public interventions with regard to General Pinochet and British Airways removing the British flag from their aircraft after she left Downing Street in 1990, but not anything too substantial. In Britain, it’s customary for former Prime Ministers and high ranking politicians to take up a seat in the House of Lords and contribute your political knowledge and nous to the second chamber. You could opt to become an ‘elder statesman’ in a similar manner to that of former US president Jimmy Carter did; set up a foundation, become a humanitarian and use your political clout and expertise to right social wrongs across the globe.
Or if you’re former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, you can present a talk show on the Russian Government backed news channel, Russia Today. An unorthodox option for a retired politician, but one he has chosen to pursue none the less.
Mr Salmond has made no secret of his dislike of the ‘British state’ in his recent public appearances. But it seems that the former First Minister has started to embark on a concerted and sustained campaign to undermine not only the ‘British State’ but all aspects of Britishness now with little regard for the future. At the Scottish Independence Convention in November 2017, he said to the audience that he has ‘never seen the British state in a state of more disorientation and chaos’ and that ‘The structures of Westminster politics are decaying before our eyes’. You could counter this and argue that from a unionist perspective, the UK looks stronger than ever, with the Conservatives in government thanks to a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with the Northern Irish DUP and the SNP having lost twenty-one seats in the June 2017 general election.
Regardless of his opinion on the precariousness and fragility of the ‘British State’, he appears on a news network that is officially sponsored by the Russian government. This is a country that has been consistently rated as ‘not free’ when it comes to press freedom, according to Freedom House. A place where LGBT relationships are still not recognised, and there are numerous discriminatory laws in place. Russia is rated 119th in a list of the worlds least corrupt countries. The UK is number 11. A place that is infamous for now resembling an oligarchy and Vladimir Putin has held onto political power, in some form or another since the year 1999.
I find it almost impossible to believe that these are issues that Mr. Salmond agrees with. I didn’t like him as First Minister and disagreed with many of his parties policies. I didn’t like what he instigated in Scotland with his call for a referendum on Scottish independence. I don’t like the festering divisions that it opened up to questions that didn’t even need answering.
However, I also earnestly believe that he wouldn’t approve of the same policies as the Russian government, which in many ways he is tacitly doing at the moment. A lot of people in Scotland disliked him, but he seemed like a decent enough person and not likely to turn autocratic within the current parliamentary system. Had the ‘Yes’ campaign won the referendum in 2014, Scotland, under Alex Salmond would at least have enjoyed the same freedoms as it currently does with regards to minority groups and press freedoms.
We could quickly venture into conspiratorial territory if we so wished. Russia was one of the few other nations (The other was North Korea) to support an independent Scotland in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, not because of any vague notion for the self-determination of people, but more because of the damage it would do to the Western World. In Russia, it still seems like politics is very much a zero-sum game to be played in a multi-polar world.
Also, significant figures in the UK, particularly those from a leftish leaning persuasion have always had an unhealthy obsession with the Soviet Union and now Russia. Beatrice and Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw were all acolytes of Stalin’s Russia, before changing their minds after actually witnessing the squalid reality of communism. To many on the left today, Russia is still viewed as an opponent of perceived Western Imperialism despite its own imperialistic misadventures throughout history. An alternative to the ‘hyperpower’ of the United States.
According to the recently released paper titled ‘Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Left, Right and Russia‘ since the launch of Russia today, the news network has sought out high-ranking politicians who are known to protest British foreign and domestic policy. The best known of these are Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway. Alex Salmond has just become the third member in what Dr Andrew Jackson has termed ‘Putin’s Useful Idiots’. How much persuasive power this mild fifth column triumvirate actually has is unknown, but there are a large number of posts on social media that seem to have a great deal of mistrust in Britain and a little too much regard for Russia. The recent allegations from the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, claiming that Alex Salmond is a ‘puppet’ of Russia Today will not help this notion either.
Mr Salmond seems to suffer from the occasional bout of selective memory loss. The United Kingdom was one of the great historical engines of liberal democracy, toleration, press freedom and minority rights. When rated regarding soft, cultural power, it is often just behind the United States and is still very much a ‘Force for Good‘ in the world. Russia not quite as much, although her past cultural and intellectual achievements can be regarded very highly. Great Britain was at the forefront of the enlightenment project during the Georgian period, and the stream of intellectual and philosophical thought that this precipitated continues to influence us to this day. Scotland’s own part in this cannot be overlooked, so much so that the French political philosopher Voltaire said ‘that we Look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.’
Equally Importantly for Scotland, and even if you didn’t vote for the SNP or Alex Salmond, he was still the First Minister. If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014, he might have been our first leader. He may not now be an elected politician, but he still has a responsibility to his previous post. It may be that his own show at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe has gone to his head and given him a taste for showbiz and that his appearance on Russian Today is just a misguided and gauche attempt at a post-political career. We can only hope so.