I first took more than passing interest in the Salmond affair when, before the ink on the charge sheet was dry, he had literally been written out of SNP history, writes BRIAN WILSON
The party’s web-site expunged all reference while the official account of the 2014 referendum became that their campaign was “led by Nicola Sturgeon” – a bizarre falsehood recognisable by anyone around at the time.
There were two reasons for this to be of public interest. First, an organisation which could falsify its own history with such abandon should never be let near our children’s text-books.
Second, there was something disturbing about the inherent contempt for the principle that any individual, like them or not, is innocent until proven guilty. To the great inconvenience of the SNP’s historical revisionists, a Scottish jury dismissed the charges against him.
If he had gone to jail, the matter would have ended. He would have been a voice in the wilderness raging against injustice amidst mounting public disinterest. The fact he had won a costly case against the Scottish Government, would not merit a footnote in re-written history.
Instead, a light shone on a cesspit of intrigue at the highest levels of Scottish government, for which words like “catastrophic errors” barely suffice. Nobody has taken responsibility. The authors of the catastrophe remain all in this together. As the former SNP adviser, Alex Bell, put it this week: “It is government by gang. Scotland is the victim”.
Credit where it is due. We have seen a master-class in news management, albeit in a largely compliant market. The Holyrood committee was ruthlessly denigrated in advance so as to make the Hamilton report the yardstick by which all is judged.
Except it is no such thing. The narrow questions around the Ministerial Code were never likely to yield a conviction. How do you prove beyond doubt that anything was done “knowingly”? I never expected that conclusion to be confronted, far less Sturgeon to resign.
To that extent, Salmond fell victim to his own hubris. There has always been too much of the barrack-room lawyer about him and reliance on the Ministerial code rather than how any normal person would view the available evidence was doomed.
There was a precedent for that distinction. In 2018, James Hamilton cleared the Welsh First Minister of breaching the Ministerial code in a case with some parallels. Six months later he was gone; the circumstances around the case having transcended the “forensic” legalisms.
An example of how these concepts conflict lies in Hamilton’s reasoning that, since there is no “rule” which says a case should be conceded because it is likely to be lost, the Ministerial code was not broken. That is a factual proposition which absolves any Minister of risk in this respect. Was there any real justification for pressing on? That is not what Hamilton was asked to determine. Job done.
The committee’s report was an impressive piece of work which repeatedly damned the whole rotten operation, unanimously except in very specific areas relating to Sturgeon. The lengthy account of how evidence was withheld, delayed, redacted and obstructed is itself an indictment which should shame any government west of Belarus.
Consider one piece of evidence which epitomises the deceit of the operation and particularly Ms Sturgeon’s fabled “eight hours” when MeToo featured prominently. Contrast this with the testimony of a civil servant who found that “after the Government had initiated the police referral … we were basically just dropped … we were just left to swim”. Me Who, Ms Sturgeon?
There is a wider lesson in all this. It reminds us of the poisoned bullet dodged in 2014. If Nationalism had prevailed, Salmond would be ruler of all he surveys; Sturgeon his loyal deputy in waiting, seeing no evil and hearing no evil; the sycophants and supplicants even more firmly in their thrall.
The gang would be untouchable, outside the EU, outside the UK, beyond challenge or exposure. Unredacted history will judge that the bigger story is not Salmond v Sturgeon but what Salmond and Sturgeon have done to Scotland.
But who knows? Perhaps they will be re-united at Holyrood, singing Alba in perfect harmony, Now there’s a prospect that requires strong stomachs.