Alex Salmond, Donald Trump and allegations of sexual misconduct

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 11 September 2018 in Inside Politics

Alex Salmond and Donald Trump both face accusations of sexual misconduct which have yet to be tested in court

Alex Salmond sexual harassment allegations press conference - Image credit: PA Images

Few topics get editors’ hearts pumping more frantically than sex and politics.

Acres of column inches have been filled on both sides of the Atlantic in recent weeks with stories which are ostensibly focussed on personal morality and possible criminality but feed into a wider political debate where the stakes are much higher.

In Scotland, Alex Salmond has denied allegations that he sexually harassed two women when he was first minister and appears ready to fight them with every legal and political tool in his armoury.

Meanwhile across the pond, US president Donald Trump has denied widespread allegations that he has consistently sexually harassed women since at least the early 1980s, but it is two alleged consensual encounters, with former porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, that threaten to derail his presidency.

When permanent secretary Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s top civil servant, informed Salmond on 22 August that she intended to make the hitherto internal sexual harassment investigation public, he lodged an interdict to prevent disclosure.

The interdict was dropped the following day when the Daily Record published a story about the investigation, and later disclosed the wording of one of the complaints, in which a civil servant claims Salmond lay on top of her in bed at Bute House in 2013, kissed her, touched her bottom and breasts through her clothes, and only relented after being repeatedly asked to stop.

Salmond lodged an application for a judicial review into the Scottish Government’s complaints procedure and demanded a leak inquiry to discover how the Daily Record obtained details about a confidential internal investigation.

He also called a press conference in Linlithgow, where he firmly denied the allegations, which have been passed to the police for consideration.

“I’ve made many mistakes in my life, political and personal, but I have not sexually harassed anyone, and I certainly have not been engaged in criminality,” he said.

Salmond raised £100,007 in just three days – double his target – from 4,146 supporters in a crowdfunding campaign he called #forFairness.

He insists the leak has compromised not only his confidentiality but the confidentiality of his accusers, whose identity is protected under law.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is knee deep in a cauldron of sex, money, politics, power and cover up.

Like Richard Nixon, to whom he is frequently compared, it is not the alleged crimes and misdemeanours that pose the biggest threat to Trump but the apparent attempt to conceal them.

Just before election day in 2016, Daniels entered into a $130,000 agreement with Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep quiet, but later reneged on the deal after Trump was elected, insisting Trump never personally signed the agreement.

McDougal sold her story for $150,000 to the parent company of the National Enquirer, which is owned by Trump’s longtime friend George Packer.

It promptly spiked the story in a process known as ‘catch and kill’, where politically dangerous media sources are neutralised by exclusive publication deals that never make it to print.

Trump’s alleged affairs shortly after he married Melania, the current first lady, are morally dubious but not necessarily criminal, until you consider that the deals were made to deprive voters of potentially vital information about the moral character of a man who was running for president.

Cohen has admitted violating campaign finance laws during the 2016 election by facilitating the hush money payments, saying he did so in “coordination with and at the direction” of candidate Trump in order to influence the outcome of the election.

Trump’s opponents now call him an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a campaign violation, a crime which he cannot be directly charged with while he sits in the White House.

In Scotland, the wheels of justice are turning and it will be up to the Court of Session to decide if Salmond’s complaint that he is the focus of a flawed government inquiry is valid, and it will be up to the police to consider whether his alleged conduct in office crossed the line into criminality.

The difficulty, as with most alleged sex crimes, is that the accused and accuser are usually the only two people who know what happened in a private encounter with no witnesses.

Salmond’s government made great strides in seeking to protect women with its proposal to scrap corroboration, which was regarded as “the safeguard par excellence for accused against miscarriage of justice” by necessitating two pieces of evidence to bring a conviction.

Ironically, it was Nicola Sturgeon’s government that kicked the abolition of corroboration into the long grass, by initiating research into additional safeguards which isn’t due to report back until autumn 2019.

In the intervening period, the #MeToo movement compelled Sturgeon’s government to introduce a new disciplinary procedure for ministers, which Salmond argues had too few safeguards to give the accused the benefit of the doubt.

Opponents and newspaper editors have been quick to condemn Salmond in a trial by tabloid, accusing him of showing contempt towards the complainants by crowdfunding his legal fees and thereby discouraging other women from speaking out.

Salmond and Trump are now the focus of allegations of sexual misconduct, which their political opponents, who have no idea whether the men are guilty or innocent, are using as a soapbox to proselytise about justice and morality while not-so-subtly hoping that these episodes will undermine the wider political movements that they represent.

As Trump remains the ‘commander in chief’, he has pretty much sacked any government employee who has spoken out against him in an attempt to isolate himself from the political fallout, but Salmond has been reduced to a lowly foot soldier in the nationalist movement so he effectively had to sack himself to protect the SNP from wider damage.

However, he insists senior figures in the Scottish Government will have “the most serious questions to answer” in the final reckoning, and has received a wholehearted endorsement from Noel Dolan, once one of Sturgeon’s closest confidantes, who has urged Leslie Evans to resign if Salmond is cleared of any wrongdoing.

Sturgeon’s riposte to Salmond’s resignation allowed critics to argue that isolating the independence movement was just as important as protecting the complainants and ensuring Salmond gets a fair hearing.

“I agree with Alex that the cause of independence, to which both he and I have dedicated our entire lives, is bigger than any one individual, and the work we must do to achieve independence is more important now than ever,” she said.

The concerning consolation for Salmond and Trump is that their most loyal supporters don’t care whether the allegations are true or false as they are so blinkered by their respective causes that all they see is conspiracy, intrigue and ‘witch hunt’.

The thousands of people who donated to Salmond’s legal fund indicate his personal popularity remains high amongst a hard core, while a shock Deltapoll survey conducted at the height of the Salmond storm indicated that support for independence has now risen to 49 per cent, excluding don’t knows, and would increase further to a winning 52 per cent, also excluding don’t knows, if Britain leaves the EU as planned.

These events will give Sturgeon much to ruminate on as she drafts her big announcement on the timetable for a second independence referendum next month.

The Salmond saga does not appear to have dented the nationalist momentum for the moment, although there is a lot more shouting to come in the civil and possibly criminal courts.

From a purely political view, this episode may finally succeed in uncoupling Salmond from the new brand of sensible separatism that Sturgeon is trying to promote with the SNP Sustainable Growth Commission, which is full of sober economic projections and just a dash of the old ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ optimism.

Salmond’s credibility was already compromised in the eyes of many moderate nationalists by his decision to present a television show on the Kremlin-backed channel RT at a time when Russia stands accused of attempting to assassinate critics in Britain and meddle in elections around the world, most notably, the election of Donald Trump.

If Salmond is cleared of any wrongdoing, he is unlikely to re-emerge as a frontline party spokesman, but he will probably soldier on, dog whistling about BBC bias and Perfidious Albion, while Sturgeon continues her efforts to woo the centre without paying much heed to the nationalist fringe whose support can almost be taken for granted in any referendum.

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