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What the Alex Salmond case was about, and what some people want it to be about, are very different things

Holyrood

What the Alex Salmond case was about, and what some people want it to be about, are very different things

Since the jury returned its verdict last week, I have been trying to gather my thoughts on what the Alex Salmond case was actually about and what some people want it to have been about.

And these are very different things.

The former first minister was accused of 13 charges of sexual assault including one of attempted rape and one of intent to rape. He was cleared of all.

He is innocent in the eyes of the law. But that is not how some would like to see it.

The Salmond trial was set to be the political court case of the century. And with the former first minister accused of serious sexual offences against nine women, who were all either working for the Scottish Government or within the SNP, at the time of the alleged offences, the speculation about the political fall-out was rife.

The case raised – and raises - many questions about the role of the current first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and those around her; in the parliament, in the government and in party HQ, where her husband, Peter Murrell, is chief executive. 

And while Sturgeon may have escaped questions in court – it is understood she was on the defence witness list but excused because of the pandemic - she will have to face interrogation from MSPs about what she knew, when she knew and how she acted. And it is the parliamentary inquiry which could lead to her departure.

It would be naïve to think otherwise.

And with his name now cleared, Salmond gave some hint of what was to come when he spoke outside the court to journalists. 

“As many of you will know, there is certain evidence I would have liked to have seen led in this trial but for a variety of reasons we were not able to do so.

"At some point, that information, that facts and that evidence will see the light of day."

Salmond went onto say that now was not the time for those details to be released because all focus must be on fighting the pandemic.

 “Whatever nightmare I’ve been in over these last two years it is nothing compared to the nightmare that every single one of us is currently living through.

“People are dying. Many more are going to die.

“My strong advice to you is to go home and those who are able take care of your families and God help us all.”

It struck a sombre note and for now, there was no jubilation expressed by Salmond at being acquitted. It was the correct response from a man whose behaviour, while not criminal, had been shown during the trial to be wanting.

And it is true, far too many powerful men abuse their position and too many women are abused and not believed. But Salmond is innocent of the criminal charges brought against him. And these are not contrary positions. 

There has been much discussion since of the bravery of the women whose accusations of led to Salmond being in the dock. And then not believed. Much disquiet about how the verdict would trigger distress for victims of sexual assault and deter others from coming forward in the future.

And that was the seam running through the joint statement made by the women complainants in the case against Salmond that was issued by Rape Crisis Scotland days after he was cleared of all charges. 

Describing the trial as a “traumatic process” the women, who continue to remain anonymous, said: “As politicians, commentators and society reflect on this case, we would ask you to consider whether behavior which is so often merely described as ‘inappropriate’ or is tolerated by society, is acceptable towards your daughters, granddaughters, sisters, wives, friends and colleagues.”

And while, all of these are valid concerns, in the context of the charges which he had to answer to in court, they are not the fault of Salmond. If anything, this case was an exemplar of how justice should work and so to use it as a proxy for all that is wrong in the prosecution of rape cases, is frankly, unjust. 

The jury, which had a majority of women, was in full receipt of all the evidence, heard from all the witnesses, including very senior women who had worked or were working in the Scottish Government at the time of the alleged offences, and it found in favour of Salmond.

It also heard suggestions of group conversations among the women who had made complaints about Salmond and that worryingly SNP HQ basically ‘banked’ an issue raised by one of the complainants which could be ‘deployed’ at some future date, and which later turned into an accusation of attempted rape. This has raised many questions about the party’s internal complaints procedures and what else could be potentially sitting on a shelf waiting to be dealt with.

For those out with the political bubble, hints at conspiracies and attempts to thwart the former first minister’s return to elected politics, may seem fanciful but more details will undoubtedly follow when the time is right. And there will be key questions asked; about how complaints were raised, who with they were raised with, and how they were handled at the time by both the civil service and the party.

For now, though, there is a pandemic to tackle and after, it could be the contagion within the SNP that could prove less easy for Nicola Sturgeon to contain.

Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - The Conservatives, once the party of law and order, have gone feral

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