FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond asked to be given the post of Westminster foreign affairs spokesperson, according to SNP sources.
Insiders have told iScot that the request was made last year in the wake of the Referendum defeat, following his resignation as party leader to make way for Nicola Sturgeon.
The party has long recognised Europe and the UK’s “in out” referendum is the major political issue facing David Cameron in his second term as Prime Minister.
Top level political strategies for handling the EU issue have been in development by the SNP for around a year. One of those was agreement on appointing Salmond – at his own request – as the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson.
Since Salmond stepped down, anti-nationalist media on both sides of the border have been actively searching for any signs of a rift between Salmond – the party’s Big Beast – and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, his former protégé.
Following Nicola Sturgeon’s recent historic meeting with David Cameron in Edinburgh, the Daily Record claimed the Prime Minister had “outed” Salmond. It stated he was the senior SNP source behind media speculation that the Scottish Government could hold a second independence referendum without requiring approval by Westminster.
This was fiercely denied by the SNP. A party spokesperson told the newspaper: “Alex has never argued for an unofficial referendum and never would.”
The Daily Record based its claim on the Prime Minister’s response to questions about press speculation over a “go it alone” second referendum. Cameron said: “I don’t think this is remotely on the cards. I tend to take at face value what Alex Salmond says on the record, rather than off the record.”
The SNP said: “The only circumstance in which there could be another referendum is if the people of Scotland vote for a Holyrood election manifesto seeking a mandate for one. The priorities at this stage are ending austerity and achieving further powers for Scotland to grow the economy, boost employment and make work pay.”
The revelation that Salmond actually asked for his new post will put an end to any speculation that he was being “banished” to external affairs to allow Sturgeon a clear run as First Minister.
“She’s no need to do that,” a party source said. “She’s already established herself as First Minister. She was the star of the general election, as acknowledged by UK commentators. Her tour of Scotland after the Referendum also attracted pop concert size audiences.
“And she’s doing something the party has always found traditionally difficult. She’s drawing in more women supporters.”