I have not previously featured Alex Salmond on this blog. So it seemed to me that if I was ever going to do it this week would seem pertinent timing. Lest the reader regards it as significant, let me lay out my own prejudices concerning this week’s Scottish Independence Referendum.
I have an affection for the country so sense a pang at its possible loss, while realizing this is is absurd – whatever happens it will still be there. I am a fervent localist so it is logical that I should feel a little excited at people wanting more control over their own destiny, while hoping for their sake that Scotland doesn’t turn into a British version of North Korea. Those details aside, I am disinterested. Like all other inhabitants of the British Isles, outside Scotland, I have no vote on the matter; so disinterest is my officially imposed designation. I have viewed aghast the contemptible spectacle of the prime minister and other party leaders pathetically trying to outbid each other with offers of constitutional goody-bags to shore up the ‘No’ campaign, without a shred of mandate so to do, and I have sighed at how unpleasant the campaign has become. There: that just about covers it.
What about Salmond as a speaker? I have never before watched him. I noticed how, when he resigned as SNP leader in 2000 and picked up the reins again in 2004, the party’s fortunes seemed to be directly linked to whether or not he was leading it, so it would appear that the man has something – if only plausibility. Let’s have a look at his party conference speech earlier this year.
Like far too many speakers he has a comfort blanket made of paper on that lectern. It is entirely unnecessary. I have carefully monitored the times his face goes down, and almost never was there so much as a syllable that he could not have confidently uttered without the assistance of paper. Every time his face goes down he breaks eye-contact with his audience, and he does it about ten times a minute. In communication terms this is an expensive comfort blanket.
That aside, he is a very good communicator. The audience is his from the moment he starts. That is not too surprising: party leaders’ speeches seldom get greeted with stony faces and crossed arms, but this is not simply mindless fawning. Those people are really listening, and they are right to do so. It is pretty well crafted stuff.
Whoever wrote the speech loves anaphora. Two that I noted almost at random occurred at 14:25 and 29:22, and he also ends with an anaphoric tricolon. But details like that add cosmetic enhancement; they don’t make or break speeches.
The make/break ingredients are always the message and how it is structured. This speech is fairly good, though if he had dared spurn the paper (like all my trainees) he would have forced himself to structure it even more simply. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Then he would have eliminated those few moments when the pace sagged. He would have been able to eyeball his audience throughout (it’s only half-an-hour), and turn the speech from very good to outstanding.
The speech failed my memorability test, but you will have to read my book to know what that is. Salmond would benefit from reading my book. Then he might take his thumb out of his mouth, throw away his comfort blanket and become a great speaker.