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THE QUEEN OF SPIN: It's time for Softie Salmond to get rough and tough.

THE previously rather smug SNP seems to be drowning in a sea of spin.

The party which mastered the art of media manipulation has discovered that when it tries to sort out its own real substance it's just as shambolic beneath the surface as Labour at its worst.

SNP leader Alex Salmond lost nearly as many politicians this week as Labour's lost special advisers.

The SNP has enjoyed a relatively trouble-free time in recent years. Its top people have become experts in exploiting their opponents' troubles.

They have made inroads as Labour has lurched from crisis to crisis.

But they have also avoided tackling difficulties in their own ranks.

When they tried it this week, it blew up in their faces. Salmond often accuses Tony Blair of being a control freak but it's clear now that the SNP boss wants to be one too.

He is right to want that.

But while voters like a party leader to be strong, they also want to vote for a united party.

The party's spinners were desperately claimed they would suffer no loss of support because people would see they were sorting out their problems. There is something in that argument. But it doesn't hold water in this case because their efforts failed. They tried to sack their treasurer Ian Blackford - he is now standing for re-election. Their vicious attacks on him will only serve to increase his support among the party's ordinary members.

You only have to look at Ken Livingstone and Denis Canavan to see what happens when the leadership turns on its own.

It tried to dish out tough punishment to Margo MacDonald - and its MSPs refused to sanction it. When they tried to dig themselves out of a hole by unveiling a defector from the Tory party, they only got in deeper when it emerged she had also been in Labour and criticised Salmond. This week has shown the SNP split between fundamentalists and gradualists.

And the tables have now turned... Labour's Finance Minister Jack McConnell enjoyed exploitingthe SNP's problems and pounced on every weakness that appeared during its catastrophic week.

Mr McConnell wielded the axe to modernise his party during his time as general secretary. It made him enemies but also gained him respect.

He did not shy from Labour's problems in Glasgow Council or Govan - or from selling the U-turn which meant devolution would be settled by referendum.

That's why he's now seen as a possible successor to First Minister Dewar

Salmond knows he will not be seen as a Dewar successor until he tackles the problems beneath his spin.

He is now set to celebrate 10 years as leader of his party.

During that time it has made huge advances. But his problem is that he is a softie. That's why he has never dealt with his enemies.

He has relied on his tougher right hand man Mike Russell to do his dirty work.

But now he has finally started, he will have to finish it.

That means a summer of feuding and bad headlines.

Salmond is not used to that, but we are about to see what he is made of - spin or substance.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Davidson, Lorraine
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 18, 2000
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