A deep rift is tearing apart the top of the Scottish National Party (SNP).
It pits first minster Nicola Sturgeon against her predecessor Alex Salmond. But behind the dizzying complexities and legal intricacies are important matters of principle.
Salmond dominated official Scottish nationalist politics for decades.
He led the SNP from 1990 to 2000 and returned to the post in 2004. Three years later, when the SNP won the Scottish parliamentary elections, Salmond became first minister.
He was at the head of the Yes campaign in the 2014 independence referendum. When No won the vote, he resigned and Sturgeon became first minister.
In 2019, Salmond was charged with 14 offences against ten women. The charges were one attempted rape, one attempt to rape, ten sexual assaults, and two indecent assaults.
At a trial a jury found Salmond not guilty on all charges except one, on which they delivered a verdict of “not proven.”
The women who made the complaints issued a statement subsequently saying they were “devastated” by the judgement. They said, “We want to send a strong and indisputable message that such behaviours should not be tolerated—by any person, in any position, under any circumstances.
“Many of us did speak up at the time of our incidents but were faced with procedures that could not deal with complaints against such a powerful figure. Others were silenced by fear of repercussions.”
Salmond admitted in his own evidence at the trial that he should have been “more careful with people’s personal space”. Civil servants told the court they tried to reinforce the practice of not allowing female officials to work alone with him.
During the trial Gordon Jackson, Salmond’s main defence lawyer, was videoed on a train by a fellow passenger. He was reported as saying, “I don’t know much about senior politicians, but he [Salmond] was quite an objectionable bully to work with. I think he was a nasty person to work for, a nightmare to work for.”
The Sunday Times newspaper said that he “appears to say” that Salmond could be seen as “a sex pest, but he’s not charged with that.” Jackson denied the “sex pest” remark.
Following his acquittal, Salmond has made a series of accusations that he was set-up by his political enemies.
The Scottish parliament is holding an inquiry into Sturgeon’s government’s handling of complaints against Salmond.
In a statement to the inquiry Salmond accused Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and Sturgeon’s husband, of trying to “persuade staff and ex-staff members to submit police complaints” against him.
He added, “The evidence supports a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.
Other SNP officials and Liz Lloyd, Sturgeon’s chief of staff, were involved in the effort, Salmond said.
Salmond has also accused Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code by misleading parliament about the meetings between them in April 2018, a charge Sturgeon has denied.
All of those accused by Salmond have denied his claims. Sturgeon said that suggestions that there was a conspiracy against Salmond are a “heap of nonsense”.
The issue is cut across by two other factors. A substantial number of independence supporters are frustrated and angered by Sturgeon’s unwillingness to confront the British state over holding a second referendum.
It’s right to criticise Sturgeon, but too many of her critics have then unhesitatingly rushed to support Salmond’s claims and to ignore what has been revealed about him.
In addition, supporters of Salmond are generally the most ferocious opponents of the Scottish government taking up issues such as trans rights. They see this as a diversion from the unity needed to win independence.
But if Scottish independence is to mean anything it must include a war against all forms of oppression, including women’s oppression and trans oppression.
Socialists should insist that it is perfectly possible to recognise the Scottish government has not told the full truth about its actions—and reject any support for Salmond.
For now opinion polls for the Scottish parliament elections still put the SNP comfortably ahead. Most SNP supporters it seems back Sturgeon.
But in any case the politics of both Salmond and Sturgeon are completely inadequate. Whoever inherits what is still likely to be an SNP victory in the May elections will not have a credible plan to take on Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile, the Tories are celebrating a chance to undermine and weaken the independence movement. That can be challenged only by a militant mass movement that breaks from Salmond and Sturgeon’s politics.