This was first posted on Facebook on 27th February 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
The Scottish Parliament has been in existence since 1999: Nicola Sturgeon is the present First Minister, and there are five previous First Ministers, four living, as Donald Dewar died within the first 12 months. The other four are Henry McLeish (now 72), Labour: Jim Wallace (now 66), LibDem – who was Acting First Minister on two separate occasions: Jack McConnell (now 60), Labour – and Alex Salmond (now 66), SNP. Jim Wallace and Jack McConnell accepted life peerages when they ceased to be MSPs: Henry McLeish did not, and after 2016 declared he’d support an independent Scotland if Westminster enacted Brexit against Scotland’s will.
Prior to 2010, if a First Minister – or any minister in the Scottish Government – had sexually pestered a subordinate, the Scottish Government had no policy of how to deal with this. In 2010, a policy was developed: we know that none of the women Salmond pestered made use of it – and no previous First Minister could have been affected by it.
In 2017, apparently inspired by the Me Too movement and by the publicisation of sexual harassment at Westminster, the Scottish Government proposed a new policy “to ensure zero tolerance of harassment in respect of Parliament as a workplace” – this also arose out of a project to prevent bullying in the Scottish Parliament as a workplace, instigated in 2015. Nicola Sturgeon was certainly, in 2017, the instigator of increased focus on developing a policy on sexual harassment.
Nicola Sturgeon has said she didn’t know about Alex Salmond’s behaviour towards women til 2018.
I am not accusing her of lying. But it seems to me that Sturgeon might well have been aware at some level that things were not right: that Salmond’s behaviour wasn’t right.
We know, at least, that Sturgeon was made officially aware of the complaints against Salmond either by the end of March or the beginning of April 2018. It seems possible that her initial reaction was to try to ensure it was not made public: and then she realised this was not possible – either because of the extent of Salmond’s activities, or at the point where it became clear to the investigation that evidence must be passed to Police Scotland: it is not lawful for an employer to keep sexual assault, or rape, as an internal matter: crimes must be reported to the police.
Alex Salmond, in his testimony Friday afternoon, laid repeated stress on the fact that the judicial review of the investigation into his behaviour (he crowdfunded £100,000 to pay his costs, a shrewd move – once someone has donated to a crowdfunder, they are the more likely to believe in the person they supported) was found to have acted unlawfully, unfairly and “tainted by apparent bias”.
That may be, but as the facts came out in the court case, Salmond had done the things the investigation found him to have done. Salmond feels the investigation failed him and the women he had pestered sexually, but he never quite explained what the investigation should have done instead, except that it shouldn’t have been retrospective – that he, as no longer a Minister, shouldn’t have been investigated under the changed rules.
Salmond also laid stress on the fact that a court heard the evidence of the nine witnesses Salmond had pestered with his unwelcome and unwanted attentions, and decided that his pestering didn’t meet the high bar of a criminal conviction – though they did listen to Salmond’s defence that a woman shoved down on a bed by a drunken man is just being “sleepily cuddled” and decide he was Not Proven for attempted rape. Being acquitted of criminal charges in court doesn’t unhappen Salmond’s behaviour and doesn’t make his revealed characteristics disappear again, though it seems Salmond rather thinks it should.
Salmond’s entire defence seems to be: “If the Scottish Government and the civil servants in Parliament had done things correctly, I would have got away with everything and no one would have known what I did to those women.” Which, he seems to think, would have been better for the women who testified, too. (Which is not for him to decide.)
Nicola Sturgeon is to give evidence next week. I expect she won’t insist the Committee meets on a day Parliament is not usually open.
Ruth Wishart, in her Guardian article about the situation, doesn’t mention that among the fault-lines, is Joanna Cherry trying to scoop up the Salmond supporters by describing herself as his friend, by not condemning his behaviour – and also collecting the male conservative vote with attacks on trans people: she does acknowledge that some SNP supporters find Nicola Sturgeon’s cautious approach to the next independence referendum intolerably painstaking and want something faster and splashier – though as far as I can see, the cautious approach is the one most likely to succeed.
Joanna Cherry published a column in January in The National in which she used the civil war in Ireland and founding of the Irish Free State, as an example of “thinking outside the box” and not needing a referendum for independence. She was viciously furious with all critics of this violent approach to independence, it apparently not having occurred to her before publication that appearing to advocate violent insurrection is not a thing a QC and MP should do. No matter if her historical knowledge has a complete disconnect between Irish independence and the Easter Rising.
Thus far, for all the London-centric media and unionist parties hoisting Alex Salmond’s testimony high as proof that the Scottish Parliament is not fit for purpose, his insinuations of corruption and conspiracy do not seem to have affected the Scottish voters views on Sturgeon. Of course there are over two months to go before the Scottish Parliament elections.
If the SNP win a majority, Nicola Sturgeon has made clear, she will begin the slow process of making happen a second referendum, carried out lawfully, which – if a majority of us vote for independence – will let iScotland leave the rest of the UK to the Tories, and let us proceed with the business of making a nation we can be proud of. If we rush and shout and splatter threats of violence and civil war, this will not happen. The Joanna Cherry/Alex Salmond faction in the SNP are not people I would trust to run a campaign for independence, or to launch us as an independent country. We’ve seen what happened with Brexit. We must do better. We can do better.
And it is clear neither the Conservatives nor Labour want us to do better. We will be faced with social media campaigning for a low turnout in the May elections, for a low turnout in the subsequent election referendum: these are the tactics Boris Johnson used to get a 80-seat majority in December 2019, and there’s no reason to suppose he won’t try them again in May 2021.
Scotland has just become the first country to elect a Muslim to be leader of one of the main political parties – Anas Sarwar won the Scottish Labour leadership election: and the UK Supreme Court yesterday decided that the Home Secretary can unceremoniously strip a Muslim girl of her British citizenship and leave her a stateless refugee on the grounds that she is a threat to public safety. (She’s not Buffy, and we’re not vampires. Shamima Begum is no threat.)