The north-east of Scotland has always been different. At least, that is, since Robert the Bruce planted his own people here from Galloway after the genocidal Harrying o' Buchan. While home to two of the most renowned Highland gatherings, it is predominantly Lowland, intensely agricultural, and industrious. The growth of manufacturing in Aberdeen produced Labour MPs, but the rural hinterland had always been Tory or Liberal, the toss being decided between farmers and their farm servants.
Then along came North Sea oil. UK governments of both hues were desperate to get the stuff out, with little regard to the impact it had on local communities. All the revenues were destined for the exchequer in London to mend Westminster's fiscal deficit. Before this black harvest began to flow in volume, Jim Callaghan had to go running to the IMF to bail out sterling. Edward Heath had sacrificed our fishing industry on the altar of the EEC, and none of the unionist parties appeared to give much heed to local concerns.
Enter the SNP, and a new era in Scottish politics was born. This looked to have been quickly eclipsed in 1979 with the election of a majority Tory government under Margaret Thatcher. Labour's brand of 70s socialism had never taken hold, while its ramshackle social democracy was abused by the overweening demands of powerful trade unions. Thatcher used oil revenues to break the unions and destroy our state-subsidised heavy industry. In the by-going, bank base rate went up to 15%, the pound leapt in value, and the UK's internationally competitive manufacturing sector was severely injured.
While Labour held on in Aberdeen, the north-east turned to the SNP, especially after it changed policy to maintain membership of the EU, whose generous subsidy regime had turned owners of medium-sized farms into millionaires. The fishing vote was increasingly sceptical but stuck with the SNP. Then came the first Salmond-led Scottish government of 2007, and suddenly the Scots appeared to have control of their own social democratic destiny. A landslide in 2011 effectively forced an independence referendum on the SNP government given that it had an overall majority.
The cautious folk of the north-east had a lot to lose, and wouldn't make that big leap, but there clearly was, and remains, an appetite for fundamental change in the UK's constitutional settlement. The indyref engendered huge internal debate in Scotland and produced a politically highly educated electorate. Inevitably, it also restricted policy implementation by the Scottish government during that term, and caused Alex Salmond to fall on his sword, despite having achieved a remarkable 45% Yes vote. That was a turning point in the SNP's fortunes.
A massive increase in party membership and constituency gains from Labour in 2015 and 2016 led to a narrowing of focus by an over-cautious Nicola Sturgeon. Meanwhile, a decade-and-a-half of Holyrood had created an SNP apparat with slight knowledge of life outside the political bubble, and an almost complete ignorance of entrepreneurialism. Little new talent was brought into the Scottish government, and its cabinet appeared stale and complacent, while the SNP hierarchy did a poor job in maintaining a once outstanding party machine.
Then, in the rural north-east, came a Tory tsunami for the SNP. A weak manifesto and an unfocussed, ill-informed campaign destroyed the opportunity of obtaining major consensual constitutional change from Westminster. Ruth Davidson is now even moving into nationalist territory by proclaiming her 13 Scottish MPs as a 'party within a party' to protect Scottish interests, while Labour sees a glimmer of hope in promoting Corbyn's social democratic sentiments. Theresa May has become a political zombie. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon can either get radical or may become one too.
The north-east and rural Scotland generally have much to be grateful to Alex Salmond for, and the SNP must strive, once again, to become all of Scotland's party.