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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Torrid times at the top for Salmond
Alex Salmond and Sir Sean Connery
Mr Salmond with Sir Sean Connery
Alex Salmond might look back on the year 2000 as his "annus horribilus" because of the internal difficulties he has faced as Scottish National Party leader.

The past 18 months have been difficult for him even though he has enjoyed the support of Scotland's greatest actor, Sir Sean Connery, who contributes to the SNP's coffers.

There was a vote of no confidence in party treasurer Ian Blackwood which lead to an ugly spat, the eventual suspension of Mr Blackwood and then threats of legal action.

Outspoken MSP Margo MacDonald was disciplined by party chiefs and then a new recruit was revealed to have been a previous member of both the Labour and Tory parties as well as an outspoken critic of Mr Salmond.

Victory celebrations, with wife Moira
Victory celebrations, with wife Moira
Mr Salmond has been attacked repeatedly for failing to shine in the Scottish Parliament and his party has significant financial difficulties.

At the start of July a number of political pundits suggested Mr Salmond would reshuffle his front-bench spokespeople, but few could have predicted he would include himself in any changes.

His woes of the last 18 months began during the Scottish Election campaign when he condemned the Nato action in Kosovo.

He was distracted from the campaign and the end result was that the SNP did not make the electoral breakthrough it hoped for and questions about Mr Salmond's future were raised.

Kosovo criticism

In April 1999 reports of a serious rift had opened among the party leadership over the direction of its election campaign.

Opinion polls suggested two-thirds of voters disagreed with Mr Salmond's opposition to Nato's action in Kosovo and there was speculation party bosses wanted to overhaul the election strategy.

The party's performance in the election was considered to be poor.

In full flight at a party conference
In full flight at a party conference
Its conference in September last year did not go smoothly, as plans were announced for a radical policy overhaul and modernisation programme.

Ahead of the gathering, senior figures openly admitted they were outgunned by Labour at the Scottish elections.

The party conceded the plan to reverse Labour's UK penny tax cut had been badly timed and presented.

At the conference Margo MacDonald warned members to forget about buzzwords like "modernisation" and focus on the real issue - Scottish independence. She said some people had "lost the plot"

And as the conference reached a climax, with Mr Salmond ready rally the troops, he was bitterly attacked by party treasurer Ian Blackford who accused him of "dereliction of duty" for failing to make independence the party's top priority.

Declining relations

Mr Blackford repeated Mr Salmond's own words when he described Nato's bombing of Kosovo as "unpardonable folly" to describe the party leader's approach to independence.

Mr Blackford's attack highlighted the declining relations between the men, which reached a head in June when the party's executive passed a vote of no confidence without him being present.

In March this year the party leadership won a crucial internal vote over tactics to achieve independence.

Taking the Scottish parliamentary oath
Taking the Scottish parliamentary oath
Mr Salmond was ebullient after the victory, but it only served to underscore the extent to which the party remained split at senior levels.

His upbeat mood was not to last, because at the same time the party was arguing with Mr Blackwood, Ms MacDonald was dressed down for speaking out of turn.

The Lothian list MSP was given a written warning for what was described as a "severe breach of discipline".

Party whips said she had missed a parliamentary vote without permission and had briefed a Sunday newspaper against party policy.

'Star recruit'

There was further embarrassment for Mr Salmond in his torrid month of June when a high-profile Tory who defected to the party was revealed to be a member of Labour in the mid-1990s.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh rubbished her Conservative past and criticised the "bovver boy" tactics of leader William Hague when she made a public declaration she was joining the SNP.

Margo Macdonald
Margo Macdonald: A thorn in Mr Salmond's side
But it emerged the mother-of-two held a Labour Party membership card for two years.

Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh attacked Mr Salmond in April last year over his Kosovo comments, but that was glossed over when she was unveiled as a "star recruit".

She said he was "hopelessly out of his depth" and denounced him as "utterly naive".

As recently as April this year Mr Salmond was repeating his commitment to leading the party.

He told David Frost on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme: "I want to lead the party into the next Scottish elections and win it for Scotland and above all I want to see Scotland as a, as an independent country within that timescale."

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17 Jul 00 | Scotland
SNP leadership battle begins
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