Blog by Ruth Wishart
I’ve known Alex Salmond for a number of years in my journalistic life. I’ve interviewed him on his home patch and had lunch with him and his wife Moira. Observed their undoubted mutual affection and respect. Spoken with him at a Burns Supper. Chaired a couple of his book launches. He exudes bonhomie and the effortless confidence of the political big beast. He’s a touchy feely sort of bloke, but not at all in a tacky way. So I’m as confused as the next person at this latest, dramatic turn of events. And at the allegations printed about him.
As he has observed himself, saintly behaviour in general is not his strongest suit. And over the years there have been rumours about alleged consensual dalliances. Whether they have substance I know not. I do know there are many greenhouse dwelling politicians in no position to throw stones.
Ordinarily, five year old accusations against a man with no formal political role should be a one day wonder in the media. But Alex Salmond is no ordinary man. Even his political enemies would concede his seminal role in bringing his party to power under a voting system designed to prevent that very outcome. It’s not idle hyperbole to believe that the 2014 Referendum might not have been held at all without his leadership and backstage manoeuvering. That is why he still matters to the SNP faithful, and that is why the current chaos threatens to damage him, his successor and his party.
I’ve known Nicola for a number of years too, met her from time to time, and watched with admiration as she came out from under the Salmond shadow to form her own strong bond with the SNP faithful. Her first appearance at a packed SECC looked like something between a high profile rock concert and a revivalist rally. Both, in different ways, are formidable forces of nature. And neither could have envisaged a situation where they would find themselves on opposite sides of, and immersed in, this current political firestorm.
Like almost everyone else I have no knowledge of who his accusers are, and therefore no capacity to judge the veracity of what they allege. But looking in from the outside I would surmise only that putting this in the public domain at a stage where the investigation has not concluded can be in nobody’s interests, particularly those of the two women involved. The more unsavoury purveyors of my trade being what they are, they will not rest until their identity has been uncovered. They will be hounded. Equally that section of the media will not cease to inquire what the First Minister knew and when she knew it.
Thus if this information was formally released by the civil service, we are entitled to inquire about the when and the why. If it was leaked by some other source either to make mischief or for personal gain that can be filed under reprehensible given the collateral damage likely to ensue. I would caution those politicians who think this an opportunity to “weaponise” the row to ponder very carefully. I’ve been around these blocks for a long time; I can assure them there is no political party whose cupboard lacks skeletons.
It was the publication of the accusations, accompanied by the inability to see the allegations for himself, which apparently prompted Alex’s Court of Session action designed to call into question the fairness of the process involved in the new regulations principally covering appropriate ministerial conduct. Many people have chosen to interpret this as a diversionary tactic to avoid addressing the core issue.
For myself, I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about the manner in which this has all emerged and escalated. Questions for the civil service, questions for the media, and questions to inform any future cases of a similar nature. Having said which, I found it admirable that Nicola, whilst acknowledging the personal pain this has brought in its wake, went on to emphasise that the laws governing personal conduct should be applied regardless of who might be involved.
There is no getting away from the messiness of all this. Or from the fact that it has boiled up in advance of an SNP conference where national issues should have dominated. In the midst of Brexit, in the midst of debates over the whether and when of an IndyRef2, in the midst of conflicting views on the Growth Commission in their ranks, the SNP needs Salmondgate like the proverbial hole in its head.