This was first posted on Facebook on 24th February 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
TW: sexual harassment at work.
Let me see if I can very briefly bring light to this. In some ways, it seems entirely unimportant – the last-ditch struggle of an ambitious man who sees his political legacy disappearing – and in other ways, it could affect Scottish politics for years to come.
In the years Alex Salmond was leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland (he is married, and his wife has always stayed out of politics completely) Salmond pestered women sexually. I put it this way because a jury heard the evidence – nine women who had been the victims of his sexual approaches testified under oath, and not even his defence lawyer thought they were lying – and decided that the sex pestering had not met the high bar meriting a criminal conviction. On the charge of attempted rape, which Alex Salmond had claimed was “sleepy drunken cuddling” the jury decided “not proven”.
Alex Salmond is a sex pest, and this was known to the Scottish Government well before his case came to trial last year. The Scottish Government were required to carry out an investigation, and they did.
The one point where someone in the government clearly acted culpably, was when records of the investigation were leaked to the Daily Record and the Record went public with the story of Salmond the sex pest, shortly before Police Scotland announced they were arresting Salmond and charging him with a list of crimes based on witness testimony. Salmond crowdfunded a judicial review of the investigation and the review found that multiple mistakes were made in the course of the investigation.
None of them touched on the credibility of the witnesses, though, and the decision the Procurator Fiscal made to charge Alex Salmond and proceed to trial was based on the testimony of the witnesses to the police, not to evidence gathered against Salmond in the internal Scottish Government investigation.
A committee in the Scottish Parliament is currently investigating the Scottish Government’s investigation of Alex Salmond. Alex Salmond, acquitted last year, provided a document which explains what mistakes were made according to his perspective. (The original version included material which could have revealed the identity of the witnesses. The Crown Office required the Scottish Parliament to take this file down from their website and redact it, which they did.)
Alex Salmond doesn’t want to be questioned by the commitee. (He agreed to be questioned on Friday, when the Scottish Parliament is closed. It remains to be seen if they will re-open it just for him, and if they do, if he will turn up.) His side of the story is in the document.
I’ve read it.
In summary, Alex Salmond is mightily annoyed with Nicola Sturgeon because had she followed proper process – at least according to Alex Salmond’s idea of proper process, he lays great emphasis on the point that if he had been a serving Minister still when the witnesses came forward, Salmond would have been entitled to “mediation” and to know the identity of the witnesses – but that aside, Salmond feels that Nicola Sturgeon acted improperly because his reputation was ruined by the witnesses, when really, Sturgeon ought to have been primarily concerned for him, Alex Salmond, not for a few women who complained.
Salmond is also either genuinely convinced, or perhaps just knowing this is the safest line to take, that this was all a “stitch up” – the women were “got at” by Salmond’s enemies in the SNP who wanted to trash Salmond’s reputation and put the worst imputation on what was, if we’re to believe this, in Salmond’s mind mere affectionate gallantry and – cuddling.
We can, I hope, dismiss all this. But there is a huge pool of people – women as well as men – who are quite well prepared to believe that as Alex Salmond was acquitted (mostly) that means the women who testified against him are all lying. And of course there are outright rape apologists who take for granted that women lie and anyway there was nothing at all wrong with anything that Salmond did to them. He put his hands on them and complimented their looks and made sexual comments and invited them to dine with him in private at Bute House and even dragged them to bed and lay on top of them out of the friendliest affection and admiration, and something must be wrong with those women that they actually think they were entitled to interact with the First Minister on a purely professional basis once he had found them sexually attractive. Even his own defence lawyer admitted it – Alex Salmond was a sex pest.
All of this came out at the trial. Except the identities of the nine women who testified against Alex Salmond as “complainants”. Whatever Alex Salmond may have hoped for, the acquittal only meant he didn’t go to prison: it didn’t magically restore his reputation.
In the ongoing investigation into the sexual harassment process, Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of lying to Parliament. (Thus far, the only untruth I have found is that she undoubtedly mis-reported the date of a meeting by about five days, and that she may have been aware of Alex Salmond’s behaviour some time before she admits to finding out about it officially.)
From Alex Salmond’s own report, his bad temper with Nicola Sturgeon arises not from lies she told, but because she was not willing to cooperate with him to make the witnesses go away and stop talking about it.
Nicola Sturgeon is a credible, likeable, generally-respected politician, who has a plan for holding a second independence referendum that will be clearly lawful (and thus the results accepted by the governments of EU countries, including Spain). The results of this second independence referendum are uncertain, but current polling consistently suggests that independence may well get a majority this time.
This is not a situation that’s welcome to any of the unionist parties: Conservatives particularly, but Labour and the LibDems too.
Nicola Sturgeon has also been leader of the SNP for so many years that many other leading figures in the SNP quite evidently want her to step down so they can step up: Joanna Cherry sees herself (did: and may still) as a candidate for SNP leader.
To the Tories and to Labour and to the LibDems, the Alex Salmond inquiry offers a clear opportunity: trash Nicola Sturgeon’s reputation, especially with Alex Salmond’s and his supporters’ enthusiastic help, and try to force her to step down so the SNP have to hold a leadership election in the two months before the May elections. Therefore, ignore the known facts – that Alex Salmond indubitably did the things for which he was investigated, arrested, charged, and tried, even if the jury agreed by majority vote his behaviour wasn;t criminal – and focus on every tiny detail of the investigation procedure.
Even assert that the Crown Office requiring Alex Salmond’s written evidence to be redacted is evidence that Nicola Sturgeon is corruptly engaged in a conspiracy against Alex Salmond and the Crown Office does her bidding.
All of this is complete nonsense. Alex Salmond undoubtedly lost his reputation in the leak to the Daily Record of the investigation and the subsequent arrest, charges, and trial: and one can agree the Daily Record leak could well have been a bit of extralegal government information management so that the story was out there before Salmond was arrested, rather than breaking with his arrest – but the reason Alex Salmond’s reputuation has been so completely trashed is not because of anything Nicola Sturgeon did. but because of what he did, when he was First Minister, to women subordinate to him.
Yes, he was acquitted. No, he was not “found innocent”. The trial didn’t find he *hadn’t* done those things to women: it found that the jury decided by majority that Salmond’s behaviour didn’t merit criminal conviction. None of the women who testified have subsequently been charged with perjury, meaning the legal system is confident they told the truth of their experience. This can’t be said too often.
Who then is howling for Nicola Sturgeon to resign?
Unionists, mostly. The Scottish Conservatives – ignoring Matt Hancock’s corruption, ignoring Boris Johnson’s own sleazy, sex-pest ways – are wildly yelling that the fact that Nicola Sturgeon didn’t carry out the investigation into Alex Salmond correctly means she must go. “Balance” means that London-based news outlets are looking for “pro-Salmond” Scottish pundits to give their view in opposition to “pro-Sturgeon” pundits.
Within the SNP, there is the “We need another leader” faction who felt it was time for Sturgeon to step down. In general, at this point, these are also people who are either rape apologists, or transphobes, or both – Joanna Cherry started her run for leadership expecting to scoop up the pro-Salmond votes and the anti-trans votes, and has, I think, been disappointed to discover neither of these overlapping sets will get her there.
The reason the rape apologists overlap with the transphobes in the in-SNP opposition to Sturgeon is that both rape-apologism of the avuncular what-are-you-a-prude-I-just-patted-your-arse is very largely the base of conservative men – and so is being transphobic. And the SNP has a fair proportion of conservative men who want independence but don’t hold with all of this progressive stuff about trans people or women.
There are also the frankly nutty independistas who think that on the SNP winning a majority in the Scottish Parliament the First Minister of Scotland should just declare Scotland to be an independent country and “Go our own way”. Not only would this be unlawful and therefore a bar to Scotland being accepted internationally as an independent country, if Scotland did become technically independent it would be a kind of independence about as successful as Boris Johnson’s Brexit, and for the same reason. But for a lot of heidcases who are about as thoughtful as the “No Deal Brexit” Brexiters, the idea of the First Minister doing this is awfully appealling.
Joanna Cherry also intended to get votes as SNP leader from these people. She and others have been talking a lot of angry crap about Nicola Sturgeon’s delays to independence. I do wonder about Joanna Cherry – whether she really wanted independence or not, or just saw the SNP as the best party to further her career. Alex Salmonmd indubitably *did* once want independence – but he has all too certainly now forgotten all of that in the key importance of pushing himself, Alex Salmond, forward as the real victim in the case.