ALEX Salmond made an early start in politics – winning mock elections by offering half-days for all pupils and promising to replace school milk with ice cream.
His West Lothian childhood also included a spell as a boy soprano singing in choirs. He has admitted he came in for a “wee bit of ribbing” at school over it, but also claims the experience stood him in good stead for his high-profile political role. “If you can sing in front of thousands of people when you’re ten or 11, then being Scottish First Minister is nothing in comparison.”
Born in Linlithgow on Hogmanay in 1954, Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond was educated at Broomfield Primary School and Linlithgow Academy, where he was nicknamed “Fish”. His father, Robert, and mother Mary were both civil servants.
Mr Salmond has said his grandfather was the most important person in his life.
He said: “He was the town plumber in Linlithgow. And my grandfather was a local historian. He took me around Linlithgow, he showed me where all the great things had happened. I got Braveheart from my grandfather’s knee.”
He studied at Edinburgh College of Commerce from 1972-3, gaining an HNC in Business Studies before going on to St Andrews University, where he graduated with a degree in economics and history.
It was while he was at St Andrews that he joined the SNP after an argument with an English girlfriend.
After university, he went to work in 1978 as an assistant economist in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, part of the then Scottish Office. Two years later he joined the staff of the Royal Bank of Scotland where he worked for seven years, including five years as oil economist.
In 1981, he married fellow civil servant Moira McGlashan, who is 17 years his senior.
He started his political life as a committed left-winger inside the SNP and was a leading member of the socialist 79 Group inside the SNP. Along with other key figures in the group, he was briefly suspended from the party in 1982.
But the episode did not impede his rise inside the SNP. He was elected to parliament as MP for the Banff and Buchan constituency in 1987.
The following year, he grabbed headlines around the world by interrupting Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson’s Budget speech.
And in 1990, he became the leader of the SNP after a contest with Margaret Ewing, daughter-in-law of Nationalist icon Winnie Ewing.
He brought a new vigour and determination to the party and helped it become a more modern, dynamic presence on the Scottish political scene. An early coup was persuading Sean Connery to star in a party political broadcast.
When Tony Blair became prime minister and brought forward legislation to create a Scottish Parliament, Mr Salmond campaigned alongside Labour and the Liberal Democrats to bring about devolution, which he saw as a stepping stone to independence.
But the SNP’s performance in the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 – winning just 35 seats to Labour’s 56 – was seen as disappointing and the following year he quit as leader, standing down as an MSP in 2001 to concentrate on his role as an MP at Westminster.
When his successor, John Swinney, resigned in 2004, Mr Salmond ruled out a return but then announced he would stand with Nicola Sturgeon as his running mate and won with 75 per cent of the votes.
He returned to Holyrood as MSP for Gordon in the 2007 elections and led the SNP into government for the first time. The party had won just one seat more than Labour and formed a minority administration which survived against the odds for its full term with remarkably few defeats.
Mr Salmond’s greatest triumph came at the 2011 election when the SNP stormed to an unprecedented overall majority at Holyrood, paving the way for this week’s referendum. Announcing his resignation, he said 20 years leading the SNP was “not an unreasonable shift at the coal face”.