Alex Salmond is a professional taker of offence. For years he has artfully played the game of having his cake and eating it – in his world, only he is allowed to play identity politics, and any of his opponents who stand up for their alternative visions are denounced as putting Scotland down, insulting a nation and worse.
His skill at this approach, combined with his brass neck, has made a major contribution to the SNP’s success – other politicians, and particularly English politicians, are often so wary of ending up as a caricatured Braveheart villain that they simply allow him to have his way.
Happily, Michael Fallon has just called the First Minister’s bluff. Faced with a last minute request that the Red Arrows should use only blue and white smoke at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games – an idea clearly intended to give a politicised image a few weeks before the independence referendum – the new Defence Secretary put his foot down.
A Ministry of Defence source told The Sun of his response:
“…no chance. It’s the Royal Air Force and the colours of the Union Flag. Red stays in.”
Too right. It was cheeky enough when Salmond brought his own flag to hijack Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory – why on earth should he be allowed the use of the RAF, a British institution that he wants to leave, to pump his propaganda across Glasgow’s skies?
The SNP clearly planned that the Commonwealth Games would be the backdrop for a successful referendum campaign to leave the UK. I’m not so sure it will turn out that way – hearing the cheers for the Queen, the athletes from the other Home Nations and, thanks to Fallon, the Red Arrows as they performed their flypast with a full complement of red, white and blue, what some hoped would be a festival of Scottishness and separation may turn out to be a celebration of life together.
It will be hard for even Alex Salmond to throw one of his strops over Scots enjoying an air of optimism and fellow-feeling, regardless of how much it may annoy him.