Alex Salmond: Acquitted, but with lasting political consequences

(Photo: Sky News)

BY Evie Knapman, Sub-Editor 

On Monday the 23rd March, former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was acquitted of all charges of sexual assault. Whilst this closes the legal case against Salmond by proving his innocence, it will undoubtedly have ongoing political ramifications. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have long been characterised by party in-fighting, whilst the SNP’s primary goal of Scottish independence has offered an olive branch for members to unite around. However, with Salmond poised to move back into the SNP at the behest of former ally Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP may soon become a battleground for factional feuds too.

The nine women involved in the charges against Salmond are all previous government officials or SNP politicians. Politics has an alarming tendency to scandalise at the best of times, hence the politically-involved nature of the charges against Salmond mean despite his innocence, the proceedings may be used against him. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, the current Scottish First Minister, were once close allies, but the pair have not spoken since 2018. Salmond has resigned from the SNP, but were he to re-join, the accusations of sexual assault will likely resurface, or at the very least have created an irreconcilable chasm between Salmond and Sturgeon.

This battle may play out sooner than we think. The Edinburgh Central seat is set to be contested in the 2021 Holyrood elections by former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, a key supporter of Sturgeon, and Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry, a long-time ally of Salmond. Cherry has expressed the view that Salmond should be allowed to re-join the party without delay, contra the views of Sturgeon supporters. The race for Edinburgh Central may feasibly be the site of a proxy war between Salmond and Sturgeon.

One key sphere where the political reputations of Salmond and Sturgeon appear to separate is gender equality and women’s rights. Unlike Margaret Thatcher and (arguably) Theresa May, Sturgeon has sought to be viewed specifically as a woman governing for women. At the New York Women in the World Conference, she criticised Trump’s misogyny and the Daily Mail’s now infamous ‘Legs-it’ front page, which objectified Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon by setting aside political analysis of their meeting to focus on whose legs were more attractive. In contrast, Salmond has been seen as an irrelevant leader of a past age, linked to the notion of Scotland as a macho, aggressive country which Sturgeon has fought to overturn. To restate, Salmond has been acquitted of all 14 charges. However, we live in a political age where personality and private scandals are often given precedence over policy. Salmond may struggle to build a reputation which meets the standards Sturgeon has set in making Scottish politics a more egalitarian arena, as the media and public will struggle to detach Salmond from the charges brought against him in their collective memories. Salmond and Sturgeon’s reputations regarding gender equality will drive many SNP members to choose one or the other, depending on how important an issue this is for them. Thus, the historic unity of the SNP may be undermined

The political debate over the sexual charges brought against Salmond is ongoing. Salmond is expected to sue the Scottish government over the alleged role of senior officials linked to Sturgeon’s office in his prosecution, and has warned he has new evidence which may play a key part in the upcoming Scottish parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of investigations into two complaints against him by Scottish civil servants. This will inevitably heighten tensions within the SNP. It’s impossible to predict how much the success of the SNP relies on a perception of it as a party of unity; as Brexit has strengthened calls for Scottish independence, this may eclipse any divisions within the party. However, we can certainly say that the divide between Salmond and Sturgeon is likely to have lasting impact on the harmony within the SNP.

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