By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
He is widely regarded as Britain's most charismatic politician and he is on a mission to break up the three hundred year union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Earlier this week The Times named him as their "Briton of the Year" (£), yes, Briton!;
"Mr Salmond’s triumph in the Scottish elections in May was a remarkable political achievement. It gave the Nationalists an overall majority, welding a disparate and divided organisation into a formidable campaigning force. And he has fundamentally changed the constitutional agenda of the United Kingdom with his now achievable goal of independence for Scotland. He is, by any standards, one of the most formidable politicians in Britain."
In yesterday's Guardian Jonathan Freedland praised Salmond's qualities to high heaven. The strength of the SNP is much more than a Salmond-phenomenon, however. The SNP as a whole actually gets higher approval ratings than their leader. In Angus Robertson MP (right) it also has one of the UK's most formidable political strategists. Perhaps the most formidable. Over recent years much of the brightest and deepest-pocketed Tory-minded Scots have drifted into the nationalist camp. The SNP already has a formidable warchest for its independence campaign.
New Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson MSP puts the battle against independence at the heart of her new year message. "I will be working hard," she promises, "to put forward the message that Scotland is better off in Britain". She says that the independence issue is a distraction from the bread-and-butter issues facing Scottish voters (my emphasis):
"I want nothing more than for Scottish MSPs to do what they were elected to do and for the Scottish Government to do what it was elected to do – represent the people of Scotland and work hard to improve the health, education, justice and culture of our nation. Alex Salmond was elected First Minister of the devolved administration, but often acts like the agitator in chief. He is picking fights with Westminster, creating division to further his goal of separatism when what Scotland really needs and wants is both of its governments – in Westminster and Holyrood – working together to improve jobs, training and opportunities for all."
Unionists should not despair. As Freedland notes, independence hasn't got above 38% in polls but there can be no room for complacency. Early next month, kicking off a ConservativeHome series, Lord Forsyth will be setting out what needs to be done to keep the United Kingdom together. Part of that must include a rebuilding of English support for the Union. That is a theme of Graeme Archer's must-read column in today's Telegraph.