A man’s ego and a nation’s destiny

What does it take for a politician to realise that his career is over, that his influence is diminished, that the dinner speech circuit awaits, and that the rest is history?

Alex Salmond was Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party during the first independence referendum in 2014; Nicola Sturgeon was his deputy and his protege. There was no doubt about it, those two were thick as thieves. When IndyRef was lost, he resigned as FM and SNP leader and Sturgeon succeeded him in both posts uncontested. Salmond then disappeared to London to take his seat as MP and there was hardly any mentioning of him any more anywhere. Neither in Holyrood, Scotland’s parliament, nor in the SNP as a whole.

I never quite understood that. If the SNP had lost the following elections and had disappeared into obscurity, it would have made sense. But they didn’t; they wiped the floor with the Conservatives, they are still in government in Scotland, and after the last general election the third largest party in Westminster. And for both Salmond and Sturgeon, it was and is about Scottish independence. Salmond’s tenure as party leader since 1990 was based on the idea of eventual independence, although he did support devolution when it came about in 1997 as a first step. Sturgeon was the first to raise IndeyRef2 after Brexit, because the political situation had drastically changed since the first attempt.

Is it some form of personal cult thing? You can declare for one or the other, but not both? And it is never about the cause? This seems to be the norm in British politics – only the party leader, and thereby First and Prime Ministers, are given the space and the time to present themselves. No one talks about predecessors; the concept of elder statesmen doesn’t seem to exist here. And all those who had the job previously exercise a maximum of effort to disappear from the public view. Maybe it’s a vestige of the monarchy in a country that never got rid of theirs; you usually don’t mention the one whose head you just chopped off to get the job. And if you are the one who got away with your life, you don’t rock the boat. But it also extends to ministers and cabinets. Everything is centred around this one person in power, as if the rest of government didn’t exist. Having said that, Johnson’s cabinet members are the exception that proves the rule. But those clowns only come into public view again and again because they all repeatedly fuck up without exception on a regular basis. Thanks to Brexit and Corona, they have even more chances to do so, and trust me, they are using them.

Salmond resigned from the party in 2018 on order to defend himself against allegations of sexual misconduct that were said to have happened in 2013 and 2014, while he was FM; he was charged with 14 offences in early 2019. He was acquitted in a trial a bit over a year later. And then the real shitshow started. Salmond had gotten it into his head that someone was out to get him in a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” and sued the government. Because the incidents allegedly happened when he was FM, it was the government investigating them. And yes, they screwed up. Leading that investigation was someone with supposedly “prior involvement in the case,” whatever that means. So they violated their own guidelines, and paid Salmond £500,000 in the end. An inquiry was set up to figure out how the government deals with complaints and how to straighten things up. But the actual bombshell was dropped when Salmond almost immediately accused his successor of “breaking the ministerial code and misleading parliament.” In Holyrood, as opposed to Westminster, they take the act of lying to parliament seriously; Sturgeon could lose her job. So, a second inquiry is underway to determine what Nicola Sturgeon knew and when, and whether or not she can stay in her post. The report is expected by the end of the month.

It’s not that Salmond doesn’t have the right to be vindicated. But does he have to be vindictive, too? Especially now, two months before the Scottish election, of all times?

First of all, he was vindicated; in a court of law, Salmond was cleared of all charges. Whatever really happened, he got away with it. If your own lawyer calls you “quite an objectionable bully to work with,” you should be glad that 12 people on that jury didn’t think so at the time. For most men in similar situations, this is enough.

Second, I cannot help but think that this is nothing more than Salmond’s personal vendetta against his former protege. Simply because she wouldn’t play by the old boys’ rules and sort it out for him. This is the worst time to continue the accusations and the drama of giving evidence, then not giving evidence , then giving evidence again etc. and all the publicity this behaviour entails. This is an election year in Scotland. The SNP will use its majority to conduct IndyRef2 later this year, there is nothing more important in their manifesto. But that means it needs to get an unequivocal majority. Damaging the party leader and FM, splitting the party base along the lines of old alliances, casting doubt among the voters is not helping, and Salmond knows that. He isn’t stupid; he knows fine well what he is doing here and what potential consequences this could have. He could have waited until after the election in May; he could have done it quietly; he could have simply been grateful for having gotten away with it. His political career is done; there is nothing to be gained from any of this.

But no. The cause of independence be damned if it stands in the way of this man’s ego.

Westminster v Holyrood – Act 1, Scene 1

The Scottish Conservatives just needed to sit back and let the spectacle unfold. They are the official opposition in Edinburgh’s parliament, and for once they didn’t have to defend what some other Tory down in Westminster screwed up. Another party’s infighting is so much more enjoyable from the outside anyway, and why put your foot in when you can just watch and wait for the eventual fallout. Of course, they jumped the gun by motioning for a vote of no confidence in Nicola Sturgeon before she had given evidence to the committee and way before either review report is published. Haphazardly flailing arms to appear to be doing something is the pièce de résistance of the Tories these days, and timing was never their strong suit. Needless to say, the motion didn’t carry.

In recent months, hypocrisy is also a regular occurrence in the Conservatives’ playbook. Because of the way the rules work, both FM and PM are the final arbiter of their respective ministerial codes. So Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, wants to rewrite the law and procedures and turn arbitration over to the Standards Committee, because otherwise the “Scottish government would only be accountable to itself.” Shocking. Especially considering that his boss Boris Johnson used the exact same rules and procedure to clear his own Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying, when the review report on complaints about her behaviour clearly stated she was bullying her civil servants. In my world, it’s still what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, but Tories obviously live on a different planet.

And the shitshow continues. David Davis, ex-Brexit minister and one of the clowns hopping about in Westminster, just now used parliamentary privilege to discuss evidence given to the Scottish inquiry on how the Scottish government botched the investigation into complaints against Salmond. Discussed it openly in the chamber. Specifically emails and texts from the SNP’s Chief Operating Officer that had been leaked to him by a “whistleblower,” supposedly showing that there was a “concerted effort” to damage Alex Salmond. Salmond himself was barred from using these emails in his trial as they were not pertinent to the case; he was also told that he cannot publish them himself as they were obtained for his criminal trial defence only. The inquiry did not publish them either. And yet, there is a Tory MP in Westminster waving them about in the open chamber and reading them out loud.

Given the circumstances, and even without jigsaw identification, it is not hard to conclude who this “whistleblower” might be. There is only a handful of people with both access and reason to have this part of the evidence in the public domain, against court orders, and presented by a Conservative MP. Who is happy to oblige, followed by wanting “to strengthen the Scottish Parliament, not to bury it” and calling for a “greater separation of powers in Scotland between the Government, the parliament and the justice system” because the inquiry has “exposed some critical failings at the heart of the Scottish Government.” Given the record of this Conservative government, I have to give it to them – they are really good at this holier-than-thou spiel.

Whatever the rhetoric, Davis knows fine well that there is nothing he or the “whistleblower” or any of the Westminster Tories can do, no matter how loud they scream for a police investigation into the Scottish government – policing and the legal system are devolved. That is Holyrood’s domain, and it is up the the Scottish parliament to decide what to do next. Since SNP and Greens have a majority there, it is highly unlikely that they will be told by a London Tory what to do. So this can only be interpreted as the first salvo in the election campaigns – smearing the SNP government with accusations of conduct unbecoming to prevent an election victory in May. By default, IndyRef2 is then a goner as well. One wonders what the “whistleblower” was thinking…

But this idea will backfire. Simply because it was done in such an underhanded manner, the first thing most Scots will see is interference from London. This is a purely Scottish affair, and no Westminster MP from an English constituency has the right or the justification to do what Davis just did. The second thing is that this action directly contravenes an order from a Scottish court, thereby giving the impression that Scottish judicial powers are meaningless. Let me be clear – they are not. Some Little Englanders just cannot stand that it was the Scottish High Court that declared Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament in 2019 unlawful and that he had to abide by that decision. So what will actually happen, after the first wave of indignation has passed, is that this little manoeuvrer will make most Scots even more determined to get away from the Westminster cabal – rhetoric is one thing, actually interfering in the internal affairs of this country is another. And it is not on.