I find myself facing a dilemma.
Having agreed to take part in one of Alex Salmond’s stage shows during his live Scottish tour to talk about women in journalism, I now wonder whether he could tarnish my reputation.
It’s a strange situation to be in, given Salmond is one of the great political giants of our times. You don’t need to like him to recognise that he has a rich depth of experience mined from 30 years as a parliamentarian both at Westminster and Holyrood. He’s a schemer, a tactician and a skilled operator.
While for many, he divided a nation over the question of independence, he did make history by taking us to the brink and he ignited a debate that shifted the bar. Over his political tenure, he genuinely elevated Scotland to dizzy heights in terms of global recognition, ambition and stature.
He shifted our thinking from being “the best small country in the world” to simply “the best” and while some carped that it was grandstanding, he forced us to think big. That’s a proud legacy. But his credibility has been compromised.
Salmond’s crime is to have sold the broadcast rights to his television chat show to the Russian state-owned channel, RT. This, so the argument goes, gives legitimacy to a broadcaster which spreads propaganda. And, given it is funded by the Kremlin which in turn is accused of killing journalists and manipulating world order … well, you can join the dots, even if he refuses to do so.
There has been a barrage of condemnation. The former First Minister, of course, is unrepentant and displaying all the two-fingered hubris that so enrages his critics and affords him little grace. But, regardless of how he spins it, it is an own goal.
Salmond got into bed with the Russians as concern about their influence in western politics was intensifying. Only last week, the Prime Minister described it as “weaponising information” while Ciaran Martin, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, confirmed that Russian hackers had attacked British companies during the last year.
“International order as we know it is in danger of being eroded,” he apocalyptically warned.
And so, Salmond’s decision to take the rouble could not have come at a more controversial time.
Amid it all, he characteristically remains his bombastic self, but he is skating on thin ice if he believes the debacle has not damaged his credibility or that of the independence cause.
As the writer, Darren McGarvey, astutely observed, Salmond has set up “a new permanent residence in the (independence) debate by creating a previously unthinkable association between the Kremlin and the drive for Scottish independence.”
Salmond is an emblematic figure. What he does, matters. But his reputation was not his alone to squander.
It rests on the shoulders of the millions of Scots who invested their dreams in a man who talked big about going it alone but in the end finds himself in the pocket of Putin and played by the Kremlin.