Ramsay Jones: Alex Salmond back making the news, but this time he’s on Russian television

Ramsay Jones

Other than my mum and dad, there are only two people who have ever called me “son”.

One was a proud Scot, universally acclaimed as a master of the English language. A great communicator who painted pictures with words, as well as Turner or Picasso did with oils.

Somebody who was liked and admired by all who met him, and by millions who didn’t.

Who handed out boiled sweets to his colleagues in the press boxes of rugby grounds around the globe.

He was William Pollock McLaren. The late, great Bill to you and me. The commentator’s commentator. When he called you “son”, it was a term of endearment to make you feel part of the rugby family.

The other was Alex Salmond.

Once, in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, when it met in its temporary home at the top of the Mound in Edinburgh, Sean Connery was in town.

I was a reporter with the radio station Scot FM and had learned that our greatest Bond, a well-known supporter of independence, was lunching with the SNP leader.

I spotted them emerging and strolling towards the top of the Royal Mile. I approached, microphone in hand, and mumbled a couple of questions at Big Tam.

Sir Sean gave a couple of short answers before I was cut short by Alex Salmond and dispatched with a curt, “You’ve had your chance – now off you trot, son.”

Not a term of endearment, but one of dismissal.

I mention this to make a wider point. These were two men using the same word, but with vastly different intentions because of their view of their place in the world.

One, Bill, who knew he was privileged to be able to use his eloquence to talk about his passion. He didn’t think he was better or more important than anyone else, although he was.

And Alex, who thought that the world was privileged to hear his supposed pearls of wisdom. Who knew he was bigger and more important than you. Even if he wasn’t.

I mention this, because the former first minister is back making the news. Which is where he likes to be. He has announced that he is to host a new weekly chat show on Russia Today.

It will be alongside his close ally and fellow ex-MP, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, and he will chew the fat on world affairs. There is nothing wrong in this. He is a good talker. He has much to say. It might even be entertaining.

But it is the choice of TV station which has raised eyebrows and hackles.

Russia Today is funded directly by the Kremlin. It is registered as an agent of the Russian Government. It is not a public service broadcaster with a duty of impartiality, as is the BBC, but a state propaganda machine told what to broadcast by the Russian Government. It works for a regime which many claim has harassed, imprisoned and assassinated journalists.

In his defence, Mr Salmond says he will have editorial control over what he broadcasts.

That may be, but it rather misses the point. By his presence, he gives the station credibility. The fact that they want him shows they have played him for a fool. That he is taking their roubles shows that he is.

Because for Alex, it is all about Alex. The world revolves around him. And his ability to airbrush history to suit his own ends, is legendary.

This was the man who attacked the BBC as a disgrace, and untrustworthy and “immersed in State power”. Who said those who work for the Corporation should be “embarrassed and ashamed”. Who compared the BBC to “Pravda, the propaganda news agency of the old Soviet Union.”

And now he works for Russia Today. Alex Salmond, who famously admitted that he admired Vladimir Putin, now works for him.

All of which reminds me of another occasion when I met him. And, far from dismissing me, he offered me a job.

I had moved on from broadcasting and become Director of Communications for the Scottish Conservatives.

I was with the inimitable Annabel Goldie at a recording of Question Time, back in the days when people still watched it.

It was at Heriot Watt University and the panel featured Alex Salmond.

Unfortunately for him, it also featured George Galloway.

The latter had just returned from Washington where he had, by popular acclaim, delivered a blistering attack on a Senate Committee over Saddam Hussein and oil.
Before the recording, George kept himself to himself.

He wandered around the green room, puffing a big cigar, prepping the spontaneous ad-libs he would deploy on the show.

Alex was being Alex. The big man. The centre of attention. He tried his usual tactic of trying to undermine his opponents by trying to out-psych them. Part of which, this time, was to commiserate with me for having to work with the “Tories” and say, in Annabel’s earshot, that if I ever wanted a real job, to give him a call.

I gave him a short answer. I can’t remember the first word. But the second was “off”. Bella just smiled.

After the show, we sat down to dinner with David Dimbleby. By then, George Galloway had stormed the evening.

He was the one to whom the host, and most present wanted to talk to.

Alex was sidelined. Marginalised. Insignificant. He didn’t know his place, but he was put in it nevertheless.