The Student got to sit down with former First Minister of Scotland and former SNP MP for Gordon Alex Salmond to talk about Alex Salmond… Unleashed, his show which is being produced by Cahoots Theatre Company. It features Mr Salmond (according to the Edinburgh Fringe website) “unleashed from the restraints of public office.” We got to ask him about his show as well as some of his experiences of being in public office.
Your show is Alex Salmond… Unleashed. Is this you then completely off the chain, saying what you have always wanted to say?
Well, I mean, I would not want people to think that I wasn’t previously saying what I wanted to say. But obviously… there are some things you can say and some things that you can’t say. If we take, let’s say at random, the President of the United States. He was invested in Scotland; it was a commercial relationship, and there were some things you couldn’t say about it. But now I can. Because it is no longer a commercial relationship and I am no longer the First Minister of Scotland. So there are a number of things, but that is just a good example of the things I could not say then that I can say now.
Is that something which is going to come up in the show?
One of the shows. Every show is quite different because the guests are different, and therefore what I say will have some relationship to the guest.
So the guests vary every show. What kind of guests can we expect to see?
People from politics. People from show business. People who are from sport. People who are famous for a range of reasons. But what I think is that they are all interesting.
Something else that will come up in the show is some of the more light-hearted moments from your time in politics…
Yes. The emphasis of the show is… this is entertainment. People don’t want to think that they are here at two o’clock for a meeting. There will be a bit of politics obviously, and if the guest is a politician then there will be more politics. But this is a lunchtime Fringe show and the emphasis will be on the light-hearted things. It is not a stand-up comedy, but we do have a resident comedian who will be performing each day. So it will be kind of like a monologue from me; there will be dialogue with the guests and questions from the audience. They get the chance to ask me questions, the guests questions, and there is a band. They are first class. We have different things, such as a charity auction each day. People will have the opportunity to have some champagne and afternoon tea in the George Hotel across the road, with the guest and me. The proceeds from each auction will go to the guest’s nominated charity. I’m sure this will incite a lot of interest given the nature of the guests, so that will be a lot of fun as well.
Why is having your own show at the Fringe something which appeals to you?
Well I’ve done the [Edinburgh International] Book Festival. In my first year as First Minister, the director of the book festival… rang me and asked if I was definitely coming. And I said yes. The only problem was that I had never wrote a book! I appeared for eight years straight without writing a book, until the very end when I had. Only in my last year had I actually wrote a book! But we did things like… well the year of the white paper, I did a thing on the white paper. I interviewed people like the late and fantastic Iain M. Banks, and I think we had Sean Connery one year. So I interviewed people at the book festival and sometimes they interviewed me. And I thought when I was doing this that ‘this is real fun.’ I thought that it would be quite nice to have a show at the Fringe as opposed to just the discussion element. Now the discussion element is in this show, but there is a lot of other stuff as well.
The opportunity that you have here, to speak your mind and say what you feel… is that part of the appeal as well?
Yeah. Absolutely. That is the ‘unleashed’ bit. You were quite right in saying that I have been pretty outspoken, but there are certain things that you can and can’t do when you are in office. The show is not… I saw something in one of the papers saying that I was going to dish the dirt. Absolute rubbish. They made that up. It’s nonsense. It is about saying some outspoken ideas and giving the guests an opportunity to [say something]. The guests have all been chosen because they all have something to say. I want to hear it, and I’m sure that the audience will want to hear it as well. But the first time that anyone knows who the guest is will be when the band plays their theme music, and on they come.
Going back to being able to say certain things or not in certain situations… did you find it easier to say what you wanted to say as First Minister compared to being an MP?
Well… there is a great story about Harold Macmillan – a Tory Prime Minister in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. In his younger days as a Tory MP he got the Tory whip withdrawn. He was always in trouble with the powers that were within the party. He used to say that he had terrible trouble with the Tory party, but then became the leader and had less trouble. It was a bit like that with me and the SNP. I was expelled from the SNP when I was a young politician, for a while. So I had dreadful trouble with the SNP until I became the leader, and then I had less trouble.
How did you become familiar with Cahoots Theatre Company (who are producing the show)?
Well they approached me. Literally the day after I lost my seat in Gordon – I was receiving thousands of emails from well-wishers, of course – I got two emails with offers. One was for I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! who offered me an undisclosed sum to go to the jungle. And one was from the Cahoots Theatre Company, who had this spot at the Assembly Rooms but somebody had dropped out. They said: ‘Here’s an opportunity!’ I looked at I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and thought ‘uuuuuh’ and then I looked at this one and thought ‘yeah, I’ll do that.’ They are great fun. They are responsible for The Mousetrap, the longest running show in London. It was embarrassing really when I went to speak with them about their offer and one of the first things they asked me was, ‘Have you seen The Mousetrap?’ But I now have seen it, because it’s been running for… 65 years? It’s great fun.
Earlier you touched upon the band. Who are the band?
Ah well, I’m not allowed to say that! I will say that they are a very talented group of young Scottish musicians.
What kind of music do they play?
Anything. They can play anything. It depends on the guest.
What are the bars in the Houses of Parliament like? Would you recommend them?
There is a lot of them [sic]. I suppose that I would recommend them in the sense that the drinks are cheap. I have always famously not recommended them to other politicians. I’ve seen too many talented people through the years get sucked into that atmosphere. It is probably not as hard-drinking an atmosphere as it was in the 1980s for example, but it is still quite hard-drinking. And some of the bars [at Westminister] are open effectively all hours because they have got their own licensing hours. I think I am right in saying that there are 17 licensed premises in the Palace of Westminister. They are not all pubs – I’m counting the restaurants – but I think I count 17. I only ever really liked one, which was Annie’s Bar… and of course they closed it! It’s no longer there. But I would say to young MPs that if they wanted to go out and drink, go out somewhere else. Don’t drink on the premises. It is an easy atmosphere to get sucked into. It’s not really my scene, apart from Annie’s.
So what is next for you after the show?
I’m doing lots of things. I did a show on LBC yesterday morning for example, so there is that. So… the offers are pouring in. I’m concentrating on doing this show, but there are various other things in the offing and I’ll just decide what I do when I get through the show. I think that there will be enough to… how shall I say [this]… to keep me out of the jungle.
In three words, how would you NOT describe your show?
Boring… dull… and it doesn’t have much pathos.
Alex Salmond… Unleashed
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
Photo credit: EAJ-PNV @ Flickr
DISCLAIMER: A previously published version of this article read that Alex Salmond ‘had never read a book’ before being asked to appear at the International Book Festival. This was an error, and what he had actually said was that he “had never wrote a book” before appearing at the Book Festival. Mr Salmond was made aware of the error, which was corrected immediately after it was identified, and he saw the funny side of the situation. Upon being made aware, he reassured The Student that he had read many books in his lifetime. The Student apologises for the confusion caused by this error.