The current boost to the SNP has come from the collapse of the right wing vote in Scotland, while the Labour vote has remained more or less stable, making Salmond's current voting bloc even more diverse than it was before. That is: SNP used to attract progressive left wing voters, who are still there, but now it also relies on an increased bloc of less left wing voters, redirected from parties to the right of centre which have lost votes. Therefore it is in his interests, and probably in his view the interests of progress to a more equitable society, to play the game exactly as he is doing, which is to be 'flexible'. In a way, that's what clever means, accommodation to circumstances. On independence the divisions will of necessity come out, and have to be accommodated by a political landscape with a range of choices.
In other words, he is neither the messiah or a very naughty boy, but a wily chap playing a nippy game in a shifting world. Or perhaps he's actually become more right wing in his convictions, but either way the effect is the same.