In the days after the Scottish Parliament election on 5th May, it seemed like the First Minister could do no wrong; walk on water, heal the sick, headline T in the Park…
Alex Salmond has always been a big beast of Scottish politics, with very few of the other 128 MSPs able to match him for political insight.
Yesterday’s Inverclyde by-election result was the latest example of this. Two days before polling day Mr Salmond said in an interview with the BBC: “I think this is earthquake proportions if we win this seat.”
Only once before has the Leader of the SNP used the “earthquake” phrase to describe his party’s chances, in July 2008 on the campaign trail in Glasgow East.
The similarities between the two campaigns are clear to see. Both came after notable SNP election victories, in both the SNP had to overcome a Labour majority of 13,000+, both seats were traditional Labour heartlands and both took place in the heat of the early summer.
Mr Salmond got his earthquake in 2008, but almost exactly three years later the First Minster will be left scratching his head asking himself how he could have misjudged the mood of the constituency so dramatically.
He used the “earthquake” phrase, he was on the campaign trail seven times, and, perhaps most interestingly, was desperately trying to turn the tide that was flowing against him by visiting polling stations in person as late as 8pm.
By then the game was up, Labour were on their way to a comfortable majority – and an impressive one given that the SNP came within 511 votes of taking the equivalent seat only 7 weeks ago.
While the result of the by-election gives notice that Labour are still a force in Scottish politics, and that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are at the start of a long re-building process, it also serves to remind us that, no matter what the Mr Salmond may believe, the First Minister is fallible.
His political radar is misfiring. An uncomfortable position for him, and an opportunity for others.