You can say what you like about Alex Salmond, and a lot of people do: that he's a demagogue, troublemaker, narrow nationalist, even "Tartan Tory". The SNP is regarded with deep suspicion by many on the Left, as if it's there's a BNP in there just waiting to get out. But what no one seems to give him credit for is leading the only party in the UK that is committed to defending explicitly social democratic values in government, removing Trident nuclear weapons, rejecting nuclear power in favour of renewable energy, blocking identity cards and establishing an open border policy for immigration.
In his conference speech in Inverness http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/8311801.stm Salmond received a standing ovation for saying that one Trident submarine in the Clyde is one too many. When did we last hear any UK party leader say that? The metropolitan left seems to have decided that there is nothing anyone can do about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the UK - as if it is just a fact of political life. We have a Labour government that is committed to spending around £100 billion on a weapons system that is a moral abomination, a military anachronism and a dangerous health hazard. Someone has to call a halt to this madness.
In the UK, nuclear power is also regarded as a fair accompli, even though the vast majority of environmentalists are opposed to nuclear generation because of its cost and because there is no solution to disposing of the hazardous nuclear waste. Around Scotland's shores, there is some 60 gigawatts of renewable energy in wind, wave, tidal power, just waiting to be converted into useful power. Yet, without any real political debate, Gordon Brown has decided that there should be a new generation of nuclear power stations - and that the UK tax payer is going to have to shoulder the burden of insuring them and cleaning up the toxic redsidue.
If and when the Conservatives come to power, there is going to be a choice: accept the cuts and George Osborne's attempts to dismantle the welfare state, or challenge the deflationary logic of austerity and defend public services. At least there is no doubt which side Alex Salmond and the SNP are on. I'm not so sure about the other parties. In his speech he called for a "contract based on social democrative values - wealth created and wealth shared." And another thing. When did you last hear a political leader quote Gandhi in a conference speech?