The former leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland battles his successor in gruelling court case
— 2 minute read — By Sam Portillo
The Edinburgh High Court cleared former leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, of all charges relating to sexual misconduct during his time as First Minister, giving the well-known political figure a springboard to launch a new party in time for May’s elections.
In January 2019, Mr Salmond was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, including groping and attempted rape. The allegations came from nine women, including two SNP officials and several civil servants, who Mr Salmond would have spent considerable time with during his tenure as First Minister. The 66-year-old decried the allegations as “deliberate fabrications” or “exaggerations”, suggesting the existence of a “prolonged, malicious” effort from the party establishment to damage his reputation.
Current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, provided eight hours of evidence to an independent committee led by Ireland’s former top prosecutor. The committee’s report ruled that Mrs Sturgeon had not interfered with the investigation into Mr Salmond’s alleged misconduct – for political purposes or otherwise.
Though both figures have been cleared by the courts, their reputations have not gone unscathed. Several members of the Scottish Parliament belonging to the SNP have expressed their disappointment in Mrs Sturgeon’s behaviour, with a separate committee concluding that the First Minister had misled parliament about the timeline of events relating to the investigation.
Having been arrested, charged with sexual assault and facing two years of legal proceedings, Mr Salmond has emerged from the scandal with his reputation barely intact. The fact that a former civil servant who was providing evidence for Mr Salmond’s defence called the former First Minister a “creep” will not help his standing among female voters. Guilty or not – sexual scandals always undermine the integrity and public trust of a politician: a point that certainly rings true for the likes of John Major, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
In the days after his acquittal by the court, Mr Salmond announced a new political party – one that supports independence, and that will work with the SNP to deliver a “supermajority”, but that is underpinned by a bitter personal rivalry. While elected members of the SNP continue to flock to the new project, polling shows that public enthusiasm for ‘Alba’ is not congruent. Currently, less than 5 percent of voters intend to vote for the new party, compared to around 40 percent for the SNP.