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Salmond's costly defence may yet have implications for Ireland

Donal Lynch


The SNP veteran's case will impact both the MeToo movement and Scottish independence, writes Donal Lynch

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VICTORY AT A COST: Alex Salmond’s acquittal may end up changing the post-Brexit playing field. Picture: PA

VICTORY AT A COST: Alex Salmond’s acquittal may end up changing the post-Brexit playing field. Picture: PA

PA

VICTORY AT A COST: Alex Salmond’s acquittal may end up changing the post-Brexit playing field. Picture: PA

In any other week it would have been seismic news: Alex Salmond acquitted on all charges relating to sexual misconduct while he was in office as Scotland's First Minister.

No less than the Weinstein case in America, or the rugby rape trial in Northern Ireland, Salmond's case was seen as a litmus test for the MeToo movement, out of which it grew. In the end, it proved to be much more similar to the latter, than the former: Salmond was officially exonerated but, as with the protagonists in Belfast, emerged from his court ordeal looking like something less than a victor.

Much of this owed itself to the nasty aftertaste left by Salmond's acquittal. The case represented a clash between the values of the 1970s and the woke present; in the descriptions in court, Salmond often sounded like something from a Benny Hill skit.

Day after day, we heard examples of him behaving inappropriately - awkward kisses on the lips, or his hands running down a woman's body, tracing her "hourglass curves". Another witness described tangling with Salmond as like "wrestling an octopus". His lawyers often did not try to deny that the incidents happened, but they successfully sought to set them in context and put them in perspective.

Salmond's QC, Gordon Jackson, wished that his client had been "a better man". After the trial, Salmond's former speechwriter, Alex Bell, said the case boiled down to "sleazy but not criminal".

In court, this proved to be a much more successful defence than it ever was in the court of public opinion. One of the problems with the MeToo movement was that it lumped all inappropriate behaviour - from off-colour comments and awkward passes to rape - into the same area of opprobrium. Salmond's case underlined that, as far as the law is concerned, they are still very different.

If the case was a day of reckoning for the MeToo movement, it may also be significant in its impact on the future of Scottish independence and the effect of that in Ireland. A lot of that depends on what happens next.

Most people involved in such a case might have gone off for a lengthy break to lick their wounds - but that has never been Salmond's style. On the steps of the court he mentioned "evidence that has not come to light" and his supporters have already indicated he plans to sue the Scottish government for "ruining three years of his life".

This court action stems from the genesis of the allegations against Salmond, which were first a political inquiry that petered out, and then a criminal case.

Salmond wants revenge on former colleagues who are accused of what he sees as a conspiracy against him. He will reveal the details of the alleged plot in a "tell-all" book, it is reported.

Salmond's main target in all of this is Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's current First Minister and his former protege. At the next elections in Scotland, scheduled for May of next year, the SNP hopes to secure a majority and, in doing so, gain a mandate to force another referendum on independence.

Instead of this, it now looks likely that Sturgeon's party will be wracked by a messy, factional battle between her supporters and Salmond's. This could in turn see voters punish the party for its disunity and torpedo Scottish claims to independence, which would have knock-on consequences across the Irish Sea.

Officially (and diplomatically) Ireland took no position in the last referendum but the diminishing prospect of Scottish independence would undoubtedly change the playing field for us in a post-Brexit world. The numerous alliances that would have been expected between two small English-speaking member states will instead take place in the overall context of negotiations between the EU and London. The dominance of London would be greatly reinforced.

For the moment, all of this will play second fiddle to the unifying danger of coronavirus. But as that abates and ordinary politics restart, Salmond's defence may prove curiously fateful.

Sunday Independent