Torrance writes of ‘surreal’ call from Salmond, ahead of biography publication

EDINBURGH freelance journalist and broadcaster, David Torrance, has been recounting how, weeks before his biography of First Minister, Alex Salmond – ‘Salmond: Against the Odds’ – was published, he had the ‘surreal experience’ of a telephone call from the man himself.

Writing on the Scottish Review website, Torrance recalls: “In what must count as one of the most surreal moments of my life, he [Alex Salmond] called me a few weeks ago as I waited outside Lambeth Palace for a glimpse of the Pope.

“He had been alerted to a story Scotland on Sunday was planning to run about the suicide of his maternal grandfather (included in the book), and he wasn’t happy.

“The conversation lasted about nine minutes, during which I held my ground, explaining that I couldn’t credibly leave out an obviously sensitive episode in Salmond’s family history.

“Although his tone was that of a disappointed schoolmaster rather than an angry politician, it was still acutely intimidating. It is a curious experience for a biographer to be grilled by his subject. It ought to have been, I remember thinking, the other way round.

Torrance also gives a more amusing insight into the pitfalls of the biographer. He explains: “The more interesting reaction to the book has been from SNP activists, many of whom saw the book for the first time at the SNP conference in Perth a couple of weeks ago.

“My publisher [Birlinn] was slightly taken aback to hear comments along the lines of: ‘What’s an effing Tory doing writing a book about Alex?’ This I found depressing, although not altogether surprising.

“First of all, the ‘Tory’ tag springs more from an obsession with pigeonholing journalists’ perceived alliances rather than my voting record, while the notion that I couldn’t possibly be impartial enough to write about a Nationalist politician isn’t worthy of comment.

“Others at conference, it has to be said, were rather upbeat about the whole thing, driven by a natural curiosity to learn more about the man who leads them.

“There were also light-hearted moments. My namesake, Councillor David Torrance, an SNP representative on Fife Council, told me he’d had to assure several friends and colleagues that he hadn’t written a biography of Salmond, while in turn I’ve had to convince a few media colleagues that I’ve not been ranked 12th on the Mid-Scotland and Fife SNP list for next May’s Holyrood elections.

“Councillor Torrance, as the Sunday Post noted, now has a copy of the book inscribed to ‘the other David Torrance’.“

Torrance is a graduate of Aberdeen University and Cardiff University’s School of Journalism. He began his journalistic career on the Edinburgh Evening News as a reporter from 2000-01, moving into television to present and produce The Week in Politics for Grampian and Scottish TV from 2001-03.

When STV replaced that programme with Politics Now in 2004, he continued in place as its Scottish Parliament reporter – returning to it in 2007 after 18 months working as parliamentary aide to the Scottish Tory MP and then Shadow Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, at Westminster.

According to his website, he currently works as …”an Edinburgh-based freelance writer, journalist, public relations consultant and broadcaster, covering politics for STV, supplying obituaries to The Herald and writing historical comment pieces for The Scotsman”.