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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 12:22 GMT
Alex Salmond: Leading Candidate

By BBC News Online's Thomas McGuigan

Alex Salmond's decision to step down as Scottish National Party leader in 2000 was met with surprise in political circles.

As he announced his departure after 10 years in charge, he told party members that they were now in their "strongest ever" position, but a new leader would be needed to carry the torch.

Speculation abounded as to his reasons for going, but Mr Salmond made it clear that 10 years as national convener was enough for anyone and he was reluctant to be "locked into a further decade" as leader.

In his famous resignation speech he stressed that he had no intention of giving up politics and he has decided to be the leading candidate for the nationalists in the general election, therefore giving up his Banff and Buchan seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Salmond will seek to continue as an MP
Mr Salmond will seek to continue as an MP
Mr Salmond will be looking to capitalise on his party's gains in recent years at Westminster and the significant fillip provided by strong representation in the Edinburgh parliament.

Party leader John Swinney approved of his decision to focus on Westminster and said nationalists would benefit from the substantial experience he can offer.

Born Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond in Linlithgow in 1954, he recalls his grandfather regaling him with tales of Scottish nationalism.

He attended St Andrews University, where he fought for the student presidency as a nationalist.

In 1973 Mr Salmond joined the SNP and became a member of the NEC in 1981.

Social redistribution

He was elected MP for Banff and Buchan in 1987 - the year in which he became the party's deputy leader - and was elected national convener in 1990.

However, his advance up the ladder of nationalist politics was not without controversy.

In 1979 he helped form the 79 Group, an offshoot of the main party.

The group's aims were independence, social redistribution of income and wealth, and a Scottish republic.

John Swinney: Recognises Mr Salmond's experience
John Swinney: Recognises Mr Salmond's experience
But the then leader, Gordon Wilson, proscribed such groups and Mr Salmond was expelled briefly from the party in 1981.

Throughout Mr Salmond's tenure as SNP leader the party wrestled with how independence could be best achieved.

There were those who supported the idea of going all-out for independence and others who saw devolution as a stepping stone to reaching the goal.

Confusion remains as to whether he was the architect of, or endorsed the Free by 93 promise of independence made at the party conference in 1992 - a policy which spectacularly backfired.

As leader, Mr Salmond's political vision consisted of transforming the party into an electoral force and stepping out of the Labour Party's shadow, which had effectively strangled the nationalist voice of Scotland.

What was arguably his biggest achievement was leading the party as it secured 35 seats in the Scottish parliamentary elections in 1999.

Mr Salmond's professional background as an economist has always given him a firm footing when arguing the case for fiscal autonomy and the case for giving Scotland control of North Sea oil revenues has been one of his consistent debating points.

Never one for shying away from the fray, he was thrown out of the Commons chamber after interrupting the Budget speech in March 1988 in protest at cuts in income tax rates and the introduction of the poll tax.

He has gained a reputation throughout the years as a sharp and effective debater and a smart tactician.

He is married and his outside interests include a love of horse racing.



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