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The crown spire of St Giles’ Cathedral, which climbs high above Edinburgh’s old town, marks where the Church of Scotland blesses new members of the Scottish parliament. The Queen sends a representative. At the service on 10th May, the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond joined enthusiastically in with “God Save the Queen” and was greeted deferentially by church ministers and political rivals alike. Salmond, Scotland’s teddy-bear-like politician of the moment, has surprised everyone, including himself, by winning the first overall majority since the parliament’s creation in 1999.

This Scot from Linlithgow went from nationalist rebel, to SNP leader, to…

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