It isn’t often these days you hear someone singing the praises of Alex Salmond, even within his own party. Since the former first minister lost the independence referendum and resigned as leader of the SNP, the Nationalist story has all been about his successor.
Nicola Sturgeon has established herself so swiftly and so successfully that people talk about her “cult” following and widely credit her for the separatists’ stunning haul of seats in May’s general election.
A common refrain is that only she, a less divisive figure than her one-time boss, could have accomplished such a victory, by sustaining the party’s momentum and sweeping both the faithful and new converts along in her affable wake.
However, there are perhaps a couple of people who miss Salmond, now enjoying the attractions of London life as MP for Gordon.
One is his long-serving communications chief Kevin Pringle, who quietly stood down from his party role last week to pursue a career in the private sector.
Pringle, seen as key to the SNP’s recent parliamentary triumphs, was very much a Salmond man and his departure marks the end of an era in Nationalists politics.
The other is crime writer Quintin Jardine, once a Scottish Tory press officer who defected to the SNP after the 1997 general election which put Tony Blair in Downing Street and wiped out the Conservatives north of the border.
Now a committed secessionist, Jardine is nonetheless unhappy at the political direction the Nationalists have taken under Sturgeon.
He warns that her lurch to the left and her chumminess with trade union firebrands will jeopardise the party’s ascendancy and that “she may be in for an unpleasant surprise in next year’s Holyrood election”.
“It has become fashionable to deride Alex Salmond, now that he’s out of meaningful power,” wrote Jardine in a blog.
“Those who do so forget that his great skill and indeed his great challenge was to draw into the SNP people from across the political spectrum and unite us behind a common cause. He didn’t do that by linking metaphorical arms with Len McCluskey and his ilk or by stupid grandstanding.”
It is true that, until recently, the SNP was a party of many different political colours true blue in the North-East and red in the west. Its social make-up was by no means homogenous and it never set out to be the class-based movement it has become.
The decision to go after Labour seats was calculated when Salmond was in control but it has been brought to fruition under Sturgeon, whose natural instincts are far further to the left than her predecessor’s.
This tactic has delivered the results the Nationalists sought total destruction of Scottish Labour and total domination by the SNP.
They won 56 out of 59 Westminster seats, are set (according to the latest polls) to storm the Scottish elections next May and appear to have made Scotland a one-party state. Surely it is only a matter of time before they call and win another referendum.
Jardine thinks not. Scotland, he said, will never be a one-party state and if the SNP maintains its leftwards trajectory, the Tories will be in a position to reap the benefits. I suspect he may be right.
While Sturgeon, glorious in battle, charges ahead with her anti-business, anti-landowners, anti-private schools, anti-middle class, tax-raising agenda, Ruth Davidson, the young and refreshingly progressive leader of the Scottish Conservatives, is reinventing her party and making them look, quite suddenly, electable.
As the old guard retire, she has brought in candidates for May 2016 from different backgrounds and different experiences.
“At the last Scottish election I was the only new face and now there’s competition for places,” she said.
It is encouraging that so many have put themselves forward to stand for a party considered toxic not that long ago.
Already, there are 100 on the Conservatives’ approved list and another 70 have applied since the general election.
This suggests that far from being a one-party state, the Scots who did not vote for the SNP on May 7 about 50% are determined to find more equal representation when Scotland next goes to the polls.
Davidson’s mission to confound the Tory stereotype of the middle-aged, male throwback began with her own leadership.
She is ensuring that when voters look for a right of centre alternative to the militancy of the SNP they will find it in her party, whose new intake (from the armed forces, business, agricultural and charity sectors) make it “look and sound like modern Scotland”.
If she can convince the pro-union majority in Scotland the people who voted No so emphatically last year that she offers the best defence against independence, then she may well make an electoral impact to counter the SNP.