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Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond is a former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP). He became active in the SNP when he joined its student wing whilst a student at the University of Saint Andrews. A naturally inclined left-winger at the time he claims he joined as he had considerable doubts as to whether or not the Labour Party would deliver a devolved Scottish Assembly.

He started life as a committed left-winger inside the SNP and was a leading member of the socialist republican faction inside the SNP, the 79 Group. He was along with other 79 Group leaders expelled from the SNP when they became a proscribed organisation within the party.

Salmond successfully appealed this expulsion and in 1987 he was elected MP for Banff and Buchan. He was at this time still viewed as being firmly on the left of the party and had become a key ally of Jim Sillars, who joined him in the British House of Commons when he won the Govan by-election in 1988.

When Gordon Wilson stood down as SNP leader in 1990, Salmond decided to contest the leadership. His only opponent was Margaret Ewing, who Sillars decided to support. This caused considerable consternation amongst the SNP left as the two main left leaders were on opposing sides. It was also around this time that Salmond and Sillars drifted apart. However, Salmond won the leadership election.

His first test as leader was the 1992 General Election, with the SNP having high hopes of making a real electoral breakthrough. However the party, whilst considerably increasing its vote failed to win a great number of seats, with Sillars losing his, causing him to famously describe the Scottish people as '90 minute patriots'. This comment caused the political friendship between Salmond and Sillars to become terminated, and Sillars became a vocal critic of Salmond's style of leadership.

The SNP managed to increase its number of MPs from four to six in the 1997 General Election, which saw the return of the first Labour Government in the United Kingdom for 18 years. This also brought prospects of a devolved Scottish Assembly closer.

Salmond signed the SNP up to supporting the campaign for devolution and along with Scottish Labour leader Donald Dewar he played an active part in securing the victory for devolution in the 1997 Referendum. However, many hard line fundamentalists in the SNP objected to committing the party to campaigning for devolution, something they felt was way short of Scottish independence.

Salmond was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and was one of its highest profile members. He stood down as SNP leader in 2000 and was replaced by his chosen successor John Swinney, who defeated Alex Neil for the post.

His leadership was characterised by a moderation of his earlier left-wing views and by him firmly placing the SNP into a gradualist strategy.

In 2001 he quit the Scottish Parliament to lead the SNP Group at Westminster, a role he still occupies.