Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon in happier times.
By Alan Taylor in The National
Midway through viewing the BBC Two documentary The Trial of Alex Salmond, I began to wonder if I had inadvertently tuned into Fox News. The scene was an Edinburgh restaurant, a stone’s throw from the High Court where the former first minister was fighting for his freedom. Four journalists, three women and one man, were having lunch on the licence payer.
In charge of this gathering was Kirsty Wark who, in consort with her guests, was clearly of the opinion that Salmond would soon be behind bars. “I’m staggered by the defence,” said one diner, whose knowledge of criminal cases is perhaps best left untested. Another remarked that what had so far emerged “wasn’t that edifying about what was going on in Bute House”. Nothing amuses me more than when journalists take the moral high ground. Yet another diner felt that the man in the dock was “a really diminished figure”, adding – apropos nothing in particular: “And he’s very persuasive.”
I agreed, as Salmond’s “putative” biographer, to be interviewed for The Trial of Alex Salmond, although I didn’t know it would be called that at that time. I had no idea whether he committed the offences for which he was charged. All I could offer was a personal view of a man in whose shadow I spent many days.
The “Warkumentary”, as it has been dubbed, underplayed all of this. Instead, Salmond was painted as a bully and sexual predator. This, we were blithely informed, was Scotland’s #MeToo moment. Harvey Weinstein’s name appeared on screen lest the point was missed.
Representatives from organisations supporting women who have been sexually abused or raped had their say. Salmond, we were told, with a knowing nod and a wink, had declined to be interviewed. And who could blame him?
This was not the trial of Alex Salmond but the retrial or the show trial of a kind that might take place in a rogue state which has no respect for the principle that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. All pretence of impartiality was jettisoned along with any expert critique of what was transpiring in the High Court.
One particularly toe-curling moment stands out. As Kirsty Wark hovered on the Royal Mile, a BBC colleague rushed up to her like a wee boy who’d had his first day at school and relayed how, while in the loo, Salmond had been heard ranting at his lawyer. Hold the front page!
But such scuttlebutt is what the BBC deems acceptable. It did not go into this programme with its eyes wide open but with its ears muffled and its brain unplugged.
Lady Dorrian, the presiding judge, instructed the jury of nine women and six men to consider only what they heard in court. They looked and listened and thought hard and came to the conclusion that on all 13 charges Alex Salmond was innocent and free to resume his life.
From what I had heard and what I have read, I could not see how any other conclusion could have been reached. It portrayed the Scottish justice system in the best of lights. In contrast, The Trial of Alex Salmond showed the BBC to be institutionally Unionist. It also showed contempt for the jury. This has dismayed countless folk who demand an apology. They are whistling in the wind.