Ancient and modern

Alex Salmond’s fishing

8 September 2018

9:00 AM

8 September 2018

9:00 AM

The ex-leader of the SNP, Alex ‘Five Pensions’ Salmond, has scrounged nearly £100,000 from the people to help him in an impending legal case. How shameless can you get?

In the ancient world, it was commonplace for the wealthy to massage their reputations by magnanimous public gestures — providing the cash to build a library or a school, for example. The 5th-century bc thinker Democritus reckoned that there was nothing like the rich giving to the poor to produce concord that strengthened the community.


For politicians, it was essential. The Greek orator Hyperides (4th century bc) argued that the Athenians allowed statesman and soldiers to make large ‘personal profits’, provided they ‘are used in the people’s interests, not against them’. A Roman working his way up the greasy pole would at one stage become an aedile, one of whose responsibilities was to organise and oversee both public and private games — chariot races, gladiatorial contests and the like. An ambitious aedile would use it to his own ends. Julius Caesar, aedile in 65 bc, borrowed millions to spend on public banquets, stage productions, wild beast shows and 320 pairs of gladiators to keep the voters happy.

The pressure to spend privately was equally severe. A politician, said Cicero, needed to work up a large clientele to support him, and that required expenditure in the form of favours. Normally, this would result in a reciprocal favour from the client, but in the case of a politician, that was not what he wanted: he wanted clients to be in debt to him. So the favour had to be one that the client could not possibly reciprocate. The only way to repay it, therefore, was to do his patron’s political bidding.

The Latin ambitio, source of our ‘ambition’, meant going round canvassing for votes. In Salmond’s case, it meant going round canvassing for a handout. Perhaps this champion of the TV channel Russia Today thinks it is his ‘right’ that others should save him money. At least he might have waited to plead destitution after the case had been settled. And what if he loses? Will he pay it back? That is what is known as a rhetorical question.

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