The allegations against Alex Salmond have revealed a divide that Nicola Sturgeon could do without

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 9 September 2018 in Comment

There can be no bigger scandal than the one the current Scottish Government faces

Image credit: David Anderson

For as long as I can remember, Alex Salmond has been the SNP.

Through his sheer bombast and evangelical faith in what he believed was the right future for Scotland, he shaped the modern-day party into an unrivalled political fighting machine that trounced its opposition and took Scotland to the brink of independence.

By any measure, Salmond is a political colossus. He was, is, one of the UK’s most formidable politicians. And he is embedded in our history.

And so, it is no wonder that emotions now run high because at the heart of the furore over allegations of sexual misconduct rest the hopes and the dreams of those that believed in him and want to continue doing so.

But amid the inevitable circus with its ill-advised crowdfunding spectacle, its Twitter tit-for-tat and the fevered speculation about the actions of the former first minister and that of the current, are two women who made complaints against him and regardless of the truth in the matter, must feel very exposed right now.

That is not how this was meant to work.

However, while it is just a year since the #metoo campaign started a supposed genderquake, this is not a column railing about power, patriarchy and the obscenity of the various manifestations of abuse.

They have been well rehearsed elsewhere and with more, no doubt, to come.

Nor is this a column about whether the allegations of sexual assault have any veracity because, like most of you, I am not qualified for that job.

But neither is it an obituary, because Salmond, the SNP and the independence movement are far from dead.

There can be no bigger scandal than the one the current Scottish Government faces.

To have a former first minister accused of sexual assault is wretched enough.

To have him then raise a legal action against the very government he once led, knowing it could fatally compromise his one-time friend, political ally and successor – and incidentally, one that put gender parity at its fore and helped shape the complaints procedure that now has Salmond in its sights – is potentially calamitous.

In terms of the current narrative about the power dynamic and gender, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.

And yet in Scotland, where everything has become binary, even an issue like serious allegations of sexual impropriety can be reduced to an argument about which side you are on: yes/no, left/right, man/woman, young/old. And that is wrong.

Allegations of this nature can’t be judged in a court of so-called public opinion. They are too complex for that.

And while, in my opinion, it was crass for a former first minister to put out the digital begging bowl and launch a crowdfunder to challenge the Scottish Government’s complaints process, I equally think it is his absolute right to defend himself against claims which were scandalously made public, through no fault of his own.

Salmond resigned from the party he has been a member of for 45 years, to avoid, he says, it tearing itself apart, but already the schism has begun.

And putting aside the nonsensical rantings of a minority of so-called Cybernats who, cocooned in their own conspiracy theories of MI5 plots and Westminster skulduggery, can see no nationalist wrongs that can’t be explained away by unionist dark forces, his crowdfunder revealed new alignments, disloyalties and a partisan politics that exposes the nasty thread of nationalism that the modern-day SNP is keen to bury.

More damagingly, it demonstrated a divide that Sturgeon could do without: those that are impatient for independence and those that are willing to wait. This could become a battle royal: Salmond vs Sturgeon.

She hasn’t just lost a political mentor, she has lost a longstanding friend. That must hurt like hell.

And she will have questions to answer, of course she will.

Like when she knew, how she knew, what she knew and crucially, who could have leaked the information about the allegations to the press?

They all have the potential for irreparable damage. But all in the fullness of time.

For now, she has played an impossible situation reasonably well. However, for criticism of Salmond’s crowdfunder to then be counterbalanced with calls – including from Sturgeon – for donations to a crowd justice campaign, launched by the charity Women’s Aid a whole month earlier to fight the ‘rape clause’, smacked in its timing, on the same day as Salmond’s, of a distasteful insinuation. It was unworthy of her office and that won’t be lost on him.

It is clear that despite their bond, Salmond was increasingly becoming an embarrassment to Sturgeon.

His stage show, his RT involvement and his occasional outbursts meant she couldn’t rely on him anymore. I am sure that was painful enough.

But for a political leader who has become defined by her approach to gender, this latest episode must surely test her mettle.

Sturgeon, meanwhile, in Salmond’s eyes, had squandered much of his political capital with her reticence to act on a second referendum and her seeming inability to close down criticism of her record in government.

He was also impatient and annoyed that his contribution to the 2014 independence referendum was traduced to the author of a flawed white paper. I wouldn’t, therefore, overplay their continued loyalty to each other.

And while there is much in this whole sorry saga that is hard to compute, the question I return to is not about whether this will destroy Salmond but whether he is willing, in the process, to destroy the SNP or more specifically, its current leader.

Even in a situation as ugly as this, Salmond has demonstrated, by way of his jackpot crowd funder, the huge swathe of support – including from some elected members – he still commands.

That must give Sturgeon something to ponder. She may be in charge, but is he still calling the shots?

Without Salmond, where would Sturgeon now be? There is no vice versa in that equation.

He knows that, she knows that, and at one time it was the dynamic that made them the winning pair.

That relationship is now well gone. The question is how they manage the fallout to ensure that their mutual dream of independence is not.

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