The good folk of Lewes on the south coast of England have roasted many famous foes on Bonfire night in the past.
After burning effigies of Osama bin Laden, Angela Merkel and former popes in previous years, they have now turned closer to home, choosing the Scottish National party leader, Alex Salmond, for the dubious honour this year.
A five-metre-high effigy of the first minister was paraded through Lewes, East Sussex, on Wednesday afternoon, complete with a wooden spoon bearing the number 45% – a sardonic reference to the losing figure in September’s independence reference.
Riding shotgun on the way to the pyre was a model of the Loch Ness monster wearing a blue and red bonnet.
The Lewes bonfire night celebrations are known as the world’s largest and the owner of the Salmond effigy, the Waterloo Bonfire Society, is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. This will be its last chance to target Salmond: he formally steps down as first minister next week, following his resignation after the SNP’s referendum defeat.
And the local authority, East Sussex council, seemed to approve its choice. It tweeted a picture of the effigy rolling past its offices: “A sneak preview of Alex Salmond and Nessie ahead of tonight’s bonfire in Lewes – it just rolled up at County Hall.”
As Scottish independence campaigners took mild umbrage on Twitter, the council quickly deleted the tweet and denied responsibility. Blaming the Waterloo Bonfire Society, a council spokesman stated: “The image was just a shot as something unusual passed the building and it has no connection to us at all.”
One of Salmond’s supporters, Mhairi Hunter, tweeted: “Let’s imagine for one second what would happen if an SNP run Council burned an effigy of David Cameron. Lordy.” The pro-independence blogger Wings over Scotland added: “In fairness, Salmond WAS attempting through democratic means something akin to what Guy Fawkes tried with gunpowder.
“But still it’s just hilarious to imagine the reaction if it was the other way round.”
The Scottish government took it in good humour. “The Tory-controlled East Sussex county council obviously view the first minister – and the 45% of Scots who voted yes – as big a threat to the Westminster establishment as Guy Fawkes, although it’s unclear why poor Nessie has been targeted.
“It’s a typical Tory attitude to Scotland, whether north or south of the border.”
A second effigy of Salmond, naked except for a kilt, was later paraded through the town.
And he was in fine company: another bonfire celebration at Edenbridge in Kent chose to burn a caricature of the outgoing European commission president, José Manuel Barroso – who had been one of Salmond’s biggest opponents on independence, often insisting an independent Scotland had no automatic right to EU membership.
Jon Mitchell, from Edenbridge Bonfire Society, said they had also considered Salmond or Katie Hopkins, a former contestant on The Apprentice. Barroso won the top spot after sending the UK government a £1.7bn bill from Brussels.
The bookies William Hill had named Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson as the favourite this year. In past years Tony and Cherie Blair, Gordon Brown and Russell Brand have graced the pyre.
“We do try very hard to pick somebody who’s absolutely current in the news,” Mitchell said.
“We only made the decision on Tuesday of last week and we started building José on the Thursday.”
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