Alex Salmond's political calculation

Triangulation is the political strategy of positioning yourself in contradistinction to two presumed alternatives, as if you were somehow above them.

If the two evils do not readily present themselves, then you invent them - or shoehorn some poor unwitting soul into adopting one or t'other role.

In Scotland, there has been for some decades a different game.

How non-Tory can you be? Seeking instant applause, a conference speaker from a rival party has only to declare that there will be "no going back" to Tory policies - or some such formulation.

Even the Scots Tories occasionally play the game, setting themselves apart from their colleagues at Westminster.

The brand, for some voters, is so seemingly toxic that one contender in the recent leadership contest suggested changing the pitch and the name.

So Alex Salmond knew exactly what he was doing when he sought to posit independence as the coherent and indeed sole alternative to continued Tory-led governance from Westminster.

His rivals may cry that this is a bogus dichotomy, a false choice.

They may say that the real decision will be whether Scots want independence or devolution, quite probably with enhanced powers beyond current plans.

Mr Salmond knows his target.

He reckons that the Tories are so unpopular in Scotland that the place to be is in precise contradistinction to them.

But, of course, he went further in his Glasgow conference speech today.

The first minister set out a series of emotive areas in which, he said, Scotland's choice was fundamentally different from that of the UK government.

No emulation of the NHS reforms causing such angst in England.

No university tuition fees. And, post independence, no Trident on the Clyde.

That was, said Mr Salmond, the "message of hope for this nation".

That meant, Mr Salmond argued, that it was legitimate to state that "home rule with independence beats Tory rule from Westminster, any time and any day".

This formulation partly explains the choice of autumn 2014 for the referendum.

'Heading for victory'

Yes, Mr Salmond hopes to build upon high-profile events in Scotland that year: the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the second year of Homecoming.

But, more than that, there is a straightforward political calculation.

He reckons that, by then, the parties endorsing the Union will be fighting each other in the run-up to the scheduled May 2015 UK General Election.

Further, he reckons that by then it may be apparent that the Tories are heading for victory in their own right at Westminster.

That is the putative syllogism which underpins his claim that it will be, for Scots, independence or the Tories.

Again, Mr Salmond's opponents cry foul.

Labour says Scotland does not face a "fight between separation and the Tories."

Home rule

That perspective helps explain why Labour - or some key figures in Labour - are reluctant to be seen eagerly involved in cross-party campaigning involving the Conservatives.

It helps explain why Labour is reluctant to develop a joint perspective on new powers with other parties.

And the Liberal Democrats complain about Mr Salmond's use of the term "home rule".

Properly understood, they say that refers to the form of substantial devolution which they favour.

The Tories, themselves, say that they will entrench Scotland's place within the Union while defending and even enhancing devolution.

As of tonight, here at the SNP conference in Glasgow, Mr Salmond seems less than distressed at this criticism.