Will Alex Salmond resign if there's a 'no' vote?

Alex Salmond at Princeton

Alex Salmond recently confirmed his intentions to remain first minister if Scotland votes ‘no’. But will this be the case?

Whilst recent polls show the gap narrowing, the Better Together campaign remain in the lead, showing that a ‘no’ vote is most likely. However, Alex Salmond insists on remaining in Scotland’s top job if this is the case.

Whether this is the right thing to do is a questionable and interesting issue.

Those in favour of Alex Salmond staying will make a simple argument: the SNP, with Mr. Salmond at the helm, were elected in 2011 with a mandate to run Scotland for the next five years. This reiterates the statement made by Alex Salmond on a recent BBC radio show:

“I was elected as First Minister in 2011 and I would like to serve out my term.”

That is to say that even if there’s a ‘no’ vote, Alex Salmond was granted the position of first minister by the Scottish people through democratic means, in fact the SNP got an unprecedented 45% of the vote - a clear mandate - something which Ed Miliband and David Cameron can barely dream of in next year’s general election.

Additionally, the SNP still remain ahead in Holyrood polls showing a strong support. And of course Alex Salmond is extremely popular, with most polls showing that 40-50%+ of people are satisfied with him doing the job of first minister. The most recent, an STV-Ipsos Mori poll on the 3rd August, placed his satisfaction rating at 49%.

Therefore, those in favour of Alex Salmond remaining in his position will use the arguments of his popularity, and the SNPs, as well the mandate to govern given to him in 2011.

Of course, there is the other side. If Scotland votes ‘no’, many people will be in favour of Alex Salmond resigning. Those in favour of this will use one very simple argument: Alex Salmond has spent his political career fighting for independence and the honourable thing for him to do would be to admit defeat and step aside. Of course there would also be calls from some for an election, but that will depend on the exact result of the referendum.

This will make things even more complicated. I predict that if the result is close, say 45%-50% in favour of Scotland becoming independent, then Alex Salmond will remain first minister and the SNP will remain in power until 2016. This is a legitimate argument as the ‘Yes’ campaign will have faired far far better than initial polls predicted. In this case some politicians will call for a resignation, but that is unlikely to come to anything.

However, if the ‘Yes’ campaign ends up doing far worse that expected - say less that 35% - then there will be heavy demands for the first minister to resign and even calls for an election.

In this case, with recent polls showing such a low ‘yes’ vote as being unlikely, then Alex Salmond might consider his options. With such a defeat to the ‘Yes’ camp, the independence debate will remain dormant for perhaps a generation. If this results in falling poll numbers for the SNP and Alex Salmond then he will not want to be portrayed as Holyrood’s Gordon Brown, clinging to power as his legitimacy is questioned. But if poll results remain positive for Mr. Salmond, and the SNP, then he may be able to fight the calls for resignation and lead the party into the 2016 election.

There are lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but Alex Salmond’s future as first minister - in the event of a ‘no’ vote’ - will be determined by three things: his determination to stay in power, the percentage difference between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote, and of course his popularity in the polls, and that of the SNP.

If Mr. Salmond and the SNP remain determined and arguments of a clear mandate to govern until 2016 are well presented then the electoral make-up of Holyrood will not change until that year.

Even if the other parties attempt to dissolve parliament to call for an election they would need two thirds of the MSPs to vote in favour of this - a scenario highly unlikely with the SNP’s overall majority.

As some Scots vote with their postal ballots this week, and more prepare to go to the polls on the 18th, things are sure heating up. A lot will change after the referendum - independence or more powers guaranteed - but whether one of those changes will be the first minister is yet to be seen.