It was roughly at the fifth S&M joke that I settled in and began to enjoy Alex Salmond’s Edinburgh Fringe show.
You would think the former First Minister would have had his fill after being spanked on election night by the Tories.
But kinkiness was a running gag in yesterday’s hour-long show, with innuendo about naughty activities in a wheat field and an end-of-the-pier, end-of-the-day pun involving Nicola Sturgeon, Melania Trump and, er, the moment of arrival. Here was Salmond’s one-man show, and it wasn’t difficult to work out which man he had in mind.
Alex Salmond… Unleashed is the former statesman’s comeback, though I honestly hadn’t realised he had gone anywhere. He quipped early on that others wanted to call it Unhinged, though since losing his Westminster seat Unemployed would have worked, too.
The production is the work of another former MP, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Throughout the event she stood stage-right although, given her ever-changing allegiances, she could be on the left at the next show. A few hundred ruddy-jowled men and extensively tattooed women crammed into the auditorium for the big event, evidently Nationalist diehards keen to relive the glory days of the old man of the SNP. A lecture on the European history of Scotland – Salmond’s latest fixation – failed to elicit much of a reaction until the pictures began flicking up on a projector screen. William Wallace… Modest cheer… Mel Gibson as William Wallace… Roof lifted.
To sketch out Salmond’s Brexit theme, he brought on David Davis, Cabinet Secretary for Exiting the EU. It was an inspired choice. Two Nationalists divided by a flag, Salmond and Davis bounced off each other and shared the rapport of old-timers who’ve seen it all – or enough to know that some of the best conversations are with those far away on the political spectrum.
Salmond teased Davis about Cabinet divisions and the minister was game, revealing that in appointing him Brexit Secretary Theresa May had failed to notice he was in the process of suing the Government on a civil liberties matter.
The Natty audience didn’t quite know how to handle Davis, so used are they to imagining Tories as colonial oppressors with their jackboot on Scotland’s neck. Eventually they warmed to him. Salmond prodded the Tory on the unanswered questions arising from Britain’s decision to split from a political and economic union. The Salmond show is sold out – and apparently irony didn’t manage to get a ticket.
If the chat with Davis was entertaining, knockabout stuff, not so the stand-up routine by Janey Godley, a Glaswegian who performs in a Scots leid so impenetrable that she could get a grant from Creative Scotland.
By contrast the former SNP leader’s humour is pure, unfiltered Salmond – broad, belligerent, bombastic and double smug with an extra helping of sarcasm. He trilled the chorus of ‘A Scottish Soldier’ whenever Ruth Davidson’s name came up. Schtick about David Davis worrying at having Michael Gove ‘right behind him’ was more Jim Davidson than Larry Grayson.
There were occasional twinkles of the old Salmond magic. He was a tremendous showman in his day and admirers will flock for the nostalgia. Mostly they’ll get a former head of government cracking stale sex gags as he makes his way through a PowerPoint presentation on European history.
As with the SNP these days, Alex Salmond… Unleashed felt directionless and in search of a purpose. My occasional chuckle was usually a pity laugh, and pity took up much of my time as Salmond strutted eagerly around the stage, straining to feign relevance. Enoch Powell said that all political careers end in failure, but there is a more ignominious way to go: Yesterday’s man telling yesterday’s jokes.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Have your say on the issues raised here by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, remembering to reference the column. Contact Stephen at email@example.com.