THE SNP coming to power a decade ago has been hailed as a “political revolution” by former leader Alex Salmond.

He was elected as Scotland’s first SNP First Minister on May 16 2007 – 10 years ago today – with the vote in Holyrood taking place almost two weeks after his party secured victory over Labour by the narrowest of margins.

Despite Labour having coming out on top in the first two Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 and 2003, Salmond was confident of winning in 2007. “It’s difficult for people now, after 10 years of an SNP administration, to appreciate what a political revolution it was,” he said.

“Labour had won every election in Scotland for 50 years, every single one, therefore although I thought we had a grand chance of winning, I stood in Gordon, which was our 20th target seat.

“To win the election we had calculated we had to win 20 seats, so one of the reasons I stood in Gordon was to communicate to the party I believed we could win this.”

However, gaining the required number of seats was a challenge.

“I changed my style and approach and tried to imbue that in the party,” he said. “The SNP had been a very lively and successful opposition party ... it’s one thing being a lively and sometimes noisy opposition, it’s quite different to get into the psychology of government.

“I was determined therefore in the 2007 election to change my ways a bit. I decided to take the campaign on to the positive and fight a campaign which heavily accentuated what we were going to do in government and the ideas we had.”

When all the votes were counted, the SNP had won 47 seats in 2007 – one more than Labour’s 46.

“The assumption of Labour control, which was one of the holy writs of politics, had been broken after half a century,” he said.

In that election in 2007, the SNP took 32.9 per cent of the vote in the constituency section of the ballot and 31 per cent in the regional section.

Ten years on, there hasn’t been a single General Election poll showing the SNP below 40 per cent.

After taking power, SNP ministers looked at how they could change the name of the Edinburgh administration from the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government. Labour had previously considered such a move but had failed to win agreement from Tony Blair’s Westminster government.

In September 2007, with the SNP approaching 100 days in power, Salmond decided to act.

“We could have had a long wrangle about a name change, but I decided to send the painters in over the weekend,” he said. “They went into the Scottish Executive buildings, including the main one at St Andrew’s House, and changed the name above the doors – and we just made the announcement that everything we did and said would be in the name of the Scottish Government.

“It just shows the difference of mind-set. We were no longer in a position where we had to ask permission or see if the Prime Minister would agree – we just did it.

“It was the right thing to do and it just required action to do it.”

While the SNP failed to implement some 2007 manifesto pledges – such as the commitment to scrap student debt – Salmond said he did not think students in Scotland would be disappointed in the actions of the SNP government, and that the restoration of free university education was his proudest achievement from his time in government. “Free education is deeply imbued in Scottish society – to be able to deliver it is an achievement,” he said. “As a single policy, that is my proudest one.”

He also pointed to Scotland having the second lowest rate of youth unemployment in Europe as another success – attributing this in part to an increase in apprenticeships under the SNP, as well as the decision to concentrate college education on full-time courses linked to employment.

Salmond dismissed suggestions the 2014 independence referendum had left Scotland divided.

“People can have disagreement without being divided,” he said. “The measure is not if we disagree, it’s how we disagree. We started the campaign at somewhere around 30 per cent support for independence, and ended up at 45 per cent. That was a significant advance, but it was a bit of a blow at the time. I thought we were close, it thought we were extremely close to achieving independence.

“It would have been a great thing for Scotland if we had managed to get there.”