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Salmond case reveals SNP’s divided loyalties

Brian Monteith portraitAlex Salmond may be innocent until proven guilty of any charges against him, but the biggest political beast in Scotland cannot escape the court of public opinion or the impact the sex harassment case is having on his party. 

There will be those who will swear by him, whatever the outcome of the allegations he faces. There will be those who support independence but hold an open mind awaiting the details of the accusations and then decide on the merits of the case. 

Likewise there will be critics who have never been fans of Salmond or independence but believe the inquiries should take their course for both the alleged victims and the accused, so that the truth is established and justice served. 

And there will be those, including diehard unionists and feminists, who want to dance on Salmond’s political grave, either because they wish him and his cause ill, or believe that no woman could fabricate such allegations. 

Three things have changed since the alleged incidents involving Salmond in 2013; he no longer holds any political office; the #metoo culture now makes it easier for victims to feel they can reveal their experiences without humiliation; and the government’s complaint process has changed, giving greater confidence to complainants that they will be heard and treated seriously. 

Aside from the truth behind the case, the way in which Salmond is proceeding is unsettling and causing further unease in his party and amongst the wider public. 

He is a relatively wealthy man and for him to fund his court action against the Scottish Government through crowdfunding is both crass and intimidatory to his accusers.  This is not raising funds to defend himself, this is raising money to attack the procedures which allow complaints that, after the due process, the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans believed merited being handed over to the police. 

The new procedures are the responsibility of and have been authorised by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Shifting blame for the procedures from the politician to the civil servant who has carried out her duties is highly questionable.

So are the three private conversations Sturgeon held with Salmond about the inquiry and the complaints against him.

There is a whiff of double standards whereby the SNP has pushed other politicians under investigation by the police either to resign the whip (Michelle Thomson MP) or be suspended (Mark McDonald MSP), while Sturgeon claimed there was no mechanism for taking action against Salmond.

The reason given was the two women had not complained to the SNP. But why would they? They are civil servants and not meant to have any party political allegiances. Why report a workplace incident to a political party – or is that how Scotland is meant to operate these days?

This affair may yet rip the SNP apart. As Salmond’s court case against the Scottish Government proceeds, members are already choosing whether to back the First Minister or her predecessor. His ability to raise more than he needed in his controversial crowdfunding exercise within hours of its launch proves he still commands a significant body of support.

More so, those who have contributed to Salmond’s cash appeal have invested not just in him proving the process is unfair, but in defeating the person responsible for introducing it – not Leslie Evans, but Nicola Sturgeon.

There have been calls from Salmond supporters for Evans to resign if he wins, but surely Sturgeon should take responsibility for any defeat. It would be unjust for the permanent secretary to be forced out for following procedures that are meant to protect employees from sexual abuse by their bosses.

Even so, Salmond may still have to face his accusers. Indeed, it may be that to settle the dispute the criminal court needs to test the evidence. Would Salmond’s defence be funded by a further appeal to his supporters?

Alternatively, if Sturgeon’s Government wins then Salmond definitely has nowhere to go but to defend himself from any eventual prosecution from a wounded position.

In fact, both Salmond and Sturgeon lose as the SNP and its cause of independence will be diminished by this affair. What chance is there of a second independence referendum in these circumstances? 

One thing is certain, the SNP can no longer present itself as the untarnished party it tried so desperately to claim it was before 2007. But don’t let anyone tell you this is Westminster’s fault.

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