To say Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are not best mates right now would be to state the obvious. Salmond was tried in March 2020 on 14 charges of sexual assault, including one attempted rape, involving 10 women. Some of the complainants were Scottish National Party (SNP) officials, others worked for the Scottish government. He was acquitted of all charges.
Being acquitted of all charges does not mean Salmond didn’t act in an inappropriate way. By his own admission, he stroked the face of a junior official asleep in a car beside him. He claimed he was trying gently to wake her up. He also admitted to the jury that he’d kissed and caressed another former official at his First Minister’s residence in Edinburgh. What’s more, he admits he had “a sleepy cuddle” with a female civil servant when he had drink in him.
Salmond is now claiming that the whole matter was a conspiracy involving Nicola Sturgeon, her husband and other SNP people. He’s due to appear tomorrow before a group of members of the Scottish parliament to tell them of this conspiracy. Nicola Sturgeon is not impressed:
“Maybe creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state [were] all part of some wild conspiracy against him, for reasons I can’t explain, maybe that’s just easier than accepting at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour.”
There is no enmity that has quite the bitter taste of a quarrel between former comrades. Salmond claims the whole thing was a conspiracy to drive him from politics. Sturgeon says there’s no evidence that the apparatus of the state was employed to destroy Salmond. However, mixed in with all this is a charge that Sturgeon knew about this whole matter but lied to the Scottish parliament about when she knew. If that were proved, Sturgeon could well be forced from office. (Older readers might remember government minister John Profumo being ejected from office, not for having an affair with high-class prostitute Christine Keeler, but for having lied to the House of Commons about it.)
It’s always sad to see old allies attempt to claw strips off each other. But the question that deserves answering is an old one: Cui bono? Who gains from all this?
That’s easy. Those who want the Scottish National Party to fall into disgrace before the elections in May. They are desperately hoping this will happen because if it doesn’t, Sturgeon will almost certainly call a referendum on Scottish independence. And for some people, that is an appalling vista. So seeing a massive split appear in the ranks of the SNP is for them a source of deep joy.
And of course it may have repercussions for our own referendum on Irish reunification. If Scotland fails, the DUP and the TUV and the wild backwoodsmen and women can point to that failure and say “There! See what happens when you try to leave our beloved Union?”
Gaining national independence was never an easy task.