A few years after his surprise resignation as Prime Minister, Harold Wilson hosted a short-lived television chat show called “Friday Night, Saturday Morning”.

It didn’t go well. Although the media-savvy former premier seemed an inspired choice, he often seemed at a loss, leaving long pauses as he tried to think of questions. One critic referred to Wilson reading the autocue as if it were the Rosetta Stone.

Wilson, a dominant figure in British politics for much of the previous two decades, obviously wanted to keep himself in the public eye, this just wasn’t the best way of doing it.

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His ill-fated turn as talk show host highlighted the problem a lot of former prime ministers, and indeed former first ministers, have: how to keep themselves busy and relevant once they’ve departed the main political stage.

Some, like Sir Alec Douglas-Home, return to office in different roles, while others, like James Callaghan, chose (literally) to cultivate his gardens. Margaret Thatcher was the first to embark on the lucrative lecture circuit; Gordon Brown reportedly hankered after a big international role.

Unlike former US commanders-in-chief, who usually enjoy state-funded legacy projects in the form of presidential libraries, former British premiers generally lack infrastructure. Reputations can therefore be damaged by post-premiership activities – just look at Tony Blair.

Others ration their interventions and business ventures, cultivating “elder statesman” status, the best example being Sir John Major. Former first ministers, meanwhile, have taken different routes. Henry McLeish is frequently in the news, while Jack McConnell has been quieter, focused on the House of Lords and Malawi.

Alex Salmond is more in the mould of Harold Wilson (incidentally a great political hero of his). Having secured a second wind at the 2015 general election, the former SNP leader is only now grappling with that age-old problem: finding a role.

Late last week the BBC radio presenter John Humphrys poked fun at his decision to branch into showbiz, beginning yesterday at the Assembly Rooms. “Alex Salmond is a serious politician, heavyweight politician,” said the Today host. “So, what’s he doing putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“You lost your seat in the general election,” Humphreys said to Salmond, “it must have been a bit of a shock, you looking for something to do, or what?” The former First Minister replied that after 30 years as an MP or MSP he was “looking for something different”.

And that’s fair enough. A few years ago, I chaired a Q&A with Salmond at Dundee University and was struck that the capacity audience hung on his every word. He can be an impressive performer, sharp (like Wilson) and capable of great political insight. He can also be pretty brutal, as I’ve also experienced, a take-no-prisoners style which, again, his followers relish.

As Miss Jean Brodie once said, for those who like that sort of thing, “that is the sort of thing they like”. As has been widely publicized, Salmond’s Fringe show has already sold out and added a couple of dates. Lots of folk obviously like that sort of thing.

But for those who don’t, such activities won’t do the former first minister any favours. For non-fans, Alex Salmond “Unleashed” (which doesn’t seem very different from the other version) will confirm their suspicion that he’s a blow-hard lacking in any substance.

Indeed, after departing the stage with an eloquent speech at Bute House in September 2014, Salmond seemed to stop caring about reputational damage. He penned an indulgent, score-settling book, spoke to anyone with a microphone (including Russia Today) and generally sounded off – frequently discomfiting his successor in the process – while more recently he’s taken to tweeting angrily at journalists.

His weekend press conference was a case in point. Not only did he take a pop at his own party, saying it had “badly” handled accusations against the former MP Michelle Thomson. On planet Salmond, it was the Scottish Press which bore the “prime” responsibility for the SNP pressurizing her into resigning the Whip and then barring her from running for re-election. But it was the SNP leadership which had Thomson “carted off, signed, sealed and convicted”, not the wicked mainstream media of Salmond’s over-active imagination.

Such Trump-like outbursts are quite a contrast to the approach he took in 2000, following his first resignation as leader of the SNP, a decision Salmond recently said he regretted. He swapped Holyrood for Westminster (not for the first time), avoided providing a running commentary on John Swinney’s leadership and became a visiting professor in economics at Strathclyde University, delivering four lectures of then orthodox neoliberal fiscal policy.

This time round, however, it’s different. Out of Parliament, the electoral routes back appear difficult (and if I know him well enough, he’ll want to right the wrong of June 2017 by standing again): even if another general election takes place soon, most of the seats he might contest are now Conservative held, while the next Holyrood contest is four years away.

It also seems unlikely Salmond will end up on any boards. Not only did he become an unlikely critic of big corporations in the closing stages of the 2014 referendum, but one suspects it’d be a brave chief executive who’d risk him damaging their share price with an intemperate tweet. Thus, he’s left with guest presenting gigs on LBC and his current Fringe show, which he probably hopes will lead to something more permanent.

But what? BBC Scotland or STV don’t really do talk shows and the London networks already have their highly-paid “talent” putting in the hours. I realise many will find the idea of me offering Salmond advice a little absurd, but he’d be better taking a back seat for a while and using the next few years to contribute something meaningful to his party and troubled movement. After all, he believes Scotland will be free by 2021.

He’s still a member of the SNP’s National Executive Committee, although that’ll hardly satisfy his political appetite; could he become party president? Or, even more radically, its first representative in the House of Lords. I can’t help feeling that opposition to that idea is softening in some sections of the party.

It’s hard being in the limelight and then not – politics is a brutal old game – but Salmond shouldn’t repeat Harold Wilson’s mistake. His real talent lies in politics, not showbiz.