The SNP had the flimsiest of legal cases against Salmond. Were they only ever out for woke credibility?
Was there ever a scandal as dull as one concerning Scottish politics? To find anything resembling interesting in the Salmond-Sturgeon saga, one must be able to sift through a tedious array of dates, parse the function of bodies with absurdly cumbersome titles and battle through the fog of Scottish contempt laws.
Strip back all this, though and what one finds is a fiasco, debacle, scandal of a weight rarely seen in our little corner of the world.
Our two combatants in this sordid showdown are the Scottish government and the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. In their own inimitable style, the Scottish government would have you believe that, at the heart of a fight that threatens to define the nation’s political landscape for years, what we really have on our hands is a case of who knew what and when and to whom did they report claims (of which the former First Minister was later cleared) that he was guilty of sexual assault.
To the inquiry probing this matter and to the parties concerned, these are important questions, regardless of how some of the members of the investigating committee may behave at times.
But to the Scottish public, they matter not a jot. What matters to them who, for the most part, are only slowly waking to the crux of the scandal: Did the First Minister, her government, party and civil servants attempt to jail Mr Salmond over claims they were told would not stand up in court?
To Mr Salmond, there is damning evidence of a conspiracy against him, which goes, as they say, right to the top, to the pillow of the marital bed shared by Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, head of the SNP.
To the Scottish government, Salmond is a madman, a spurned former leader, whose continued sway and influence threatens the motive that drives all else; the cause of independence. The Scottish government’s position is that Sturgeon and her colleagues in both the SNP and Scottish government (get these confused at your peril) acted faithfully and in the best interests of the women accusing Mr Salmond of sexual misconduct. Claims which they were told, by very costly legal advice, would not stand up to legal scrutiny and which, sure enough, were tossed out of court as the former First Minister walked away a free man.
There is no concrete proof of a conspiracy against Mr Salmond, no evidence of an effort to bring him down because he threatened to upset the unity of the independence movement. There is evidence that the Scottish government may have acted irresponsibly, even illegally, but not in the manner of the aggressive witch hunt of which Salmond accuses them.
It hinges, it appears to me at least, on their essential naïveté, informed by a corrupting liberal influence of the “believe the victims” creed: Despite the outcome of the trial, should we pursue these claims as an internal party matter, implying the criminality of a man who was found to be innocent? Sure. Believe the victims.
Should we reform the process of complaints against former ministers, while implying the guilt of a man cleared on nine counts of sexual assault by the highest criminal court in the land? Sure. Believe the victims.
Should we reject the advice provided by learned and costly legal counsel to hand over the matter to police, against the wishes of some of his accusers? Sure. Believe the victims.
Yet, believing the victims is exactly what the SNP has failed to do. They have perpetuated a case that was otherwise closed, to the detriment of their predecessor and the advantage of their wokeness credentials.
After all, the criminal law of Scotland exists so that when an imbalance of power exists between a man and a woman, a boss and an employee, or an adult and a child, victims are protected when the imbalance of power is abused. To protect the weak and provide for the less advantaged is not only a principle of natural justice, but a moral imperative that continually vivifies the criminal law. So yes, Nicola Sturgeon is correct that women who make harassment claims should be believed and those claims should be investigated according to well-crafted criminal procedures and necessary human rights protections.
And, indeed, believing victims strikes this writer as something the Scottish legal system could do more of, with the current low rates of guilty verdicts against those accused of sexual assault seem to suggest. Believing victims ought to be about taking accusations seriously, following carefully crafted rules which protect the complainer, making the evidence more admissible, and bringing the matter to jury trials.
But if believing victims means that we can perpetuate allegations and slander after a man has been exonerated, then we find ourselves with yet another miscarriage of justice.
Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP continue to abuse the criminal justice system by turning it into a weapon. By using sexual harassment or assault allegations - which were found not to be true - as ammunition against political opponents, mentors, or simply personal enemies this government has changed “believe women” from a legitimate concern about sexual violence into a contrived and suspicious mantra employed to gain political clout and societal outrage. By all means, believe complainers: provide them with a trial and the rightful scrutiny of evidence; but do not politicise their claims and trivialising traumatic experiences after the defendant was found not guilty.
Add into the bargain the chorus of female employees of the Scottish government, who staged a Twitter protest over the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body’s approval of the publication of Mr Salmond’s testimony by the committee and the dog whistle reaction of both Rape Crisis Scotland and the SNP and you have what is essentially a dull argument of due process primed for a stage production at the theatre Culture Wars. Cue a snappy Aaron Sorkin retelling in 20 years about how one man took on all the women in civic Scotland… and won.
If a “conspiracy” was launched against Mr Salmond, it was not against him but what he represents. The good intentions which paved the way to the failed criminal case against him actually sold out and let down the women at the heart of all this. They were brave to stand up but they were let down by a party more interested in pursuing the social justice plaudits of taking on the man who in happier days was the most powerful in Scotland. Well-intentioned bureaucrats who had attended too many equality and diversity HR training days simply went along for the ride.
It might appear woefully naïve of a party which has spent more than a decade in power to adopt the moral philosophy of the online left as their governing principles. To answer this, one must turn only to the folly of the failed Named Person Scheme or the doomed-to-fail Hate Crime legislation being brought forward by the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf. Both seem more influenced by what will play to those with anime avatars on Twitter than legal experts and democratic convention.
This is why, given the latest furore around Salmond’s expected testimony and the row around the publication of his written evidence to the committee, the question that must be posed to the SNP and the institutions of its government is this: were prosecutors told to pursue Salmond by an SNP so blinded by their need for left-wing credentials they would willingly pick a losing fight with him to prove a point?
The SNP would argue they were compelled to take forward these accusations, to put Salmond through their procedures and then those of the Scottish government and when all else failed, and against the wishes of at least one complainant, to refer the matter to prosecutors. To some, it appears obvious the Crown Office is taking its instructions from the Scottish government. If this is the case, it is a scandal. That an independent prosecution service would take their lead from the ruling party of the day should chill us. But if they were found to do so, as it appears to me they have, guided by their political vision rather than the rule of law, we have a far more serious problem.