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25 February 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 9:18am

The laughing Scotsman: Alex Salmond on LBC

Watching Salmond in the studio with Iain Dale makes it clear who's running the show.

By Antonia Quirke

“You can call in with anything you like. Within reason, of course.” Alex Salmond settles in to the sixth week of his phone-in slot on LBC (Wednesdays, 4pm) – “unburdened from office, I can shoot from the hip” – and reads his opening link from his iPad. I know this because I’m also watching the show online – something listeners are exhorted to do, and that Salmond and the station are more than prepared for.

Clean shirt and tie, unusually bright lights, a camera that moves carefully between Salmond and his co-host, Iain Dale, as they sit opposite each other wearing the headphones of the hard at work: very much a TV show that happens to go out on radio, too. Or a radio show as imagined in a middlebrow English romcom. (Renée Zellweger might walk into a wall outside the studio window at any moment, overconcentrating on her copy of Grazia.)

Somebody calls (17 February) to ask if Alex thinks that Boris Johnson (yet officially to back Brexit) is generally grandstanding over Europe. “People always think politicians are calculating . . .” moots Dale, as though trying on the idea for size. Salmond has obviously been waiting for this inquiry, and chuckles the deliriously gratified chuckle of the plutocrat bestowing a factory of sweets on a visiting orphan.

“Boris has two advantages over me,” he continues, thoroughly spinning out the moment. “One is the hair. And the other is the calculation in not looking calculating.” Swivelling satisfied in his seat, talking and gesticulating and looking intrigued, Salmond moves the show forward when he’s had enough, without even waiting for a nod from Dale, the more experienced broadcaster (“Francis in Chelmsford is our next caller!”). Evidently he’s running this show.

The ten callers frisk him for opinions. On Emma Thompson (“I’ve got a bit of regard for celebrities”), the Pope (“fascinating”), the Queen (“Her Majesty”), Uber (he is consumed with loathing – every week, a dig). And always on Johnson, whose photograph in Bullingdon togs Salmond says he spotted the night before, pinned to the wall of a Glasgow urinal. Dale raises his head for one of the few times in the show: “I hope you aimed properly.”

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This article appears in the 24 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Boris Backlash