Alex Salmond inquiry: Forget talk of a conspiracy, this is about revenge

The former first minister’s submission to Holyrood is full of slippery phrases and no evidence

Kenny Farquharson – Tuesday 23rd February 2021, The Times


If you do not have the stomach for the Alex Salmond saga at Holyrood — and who could blame you for averting your eyes — you can get the gist by watching the classic 1964 film Carry On Cleo with Kenneth Williams’s immortal line: “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it infamy!”

In Salmond’s written submission to the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of claims he sexually harassed female members of staff, the former first minister avoids the word “conspiracy”. He knows if he used it he would sound like a nutter. And yet he clearly sees himself as the victim of a vast and sinister plot spanning the entire Scottish establishment. He himself describes it as “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals” to destroy him.

The list of people and institutions he believes conspired against him is long. It includes, but is not limited to: the Scottish government; the Daily Record; the Scottish National Party; the crown agent; the Crown Office; the lord advocate; the Scottish parliament; and the civil service.

It is a wonder the list does not include the SPFL for its decision in May 2020 to relegate Salmond’s beloved Heart of Midlothian football club from the Scottish Premiership.

I should not be so flippant. These are serious matters. Yet to my mind there has been too much deference paid to Salmond of late, largely because he is politically useful to those who would like to see Nicola Sturgeon deposed as first minister and leader of the SNP. This usefulness has led some to turn a blind eye to legitimate questions about Salmond’s motives and credibility.

Another reason to avoid flippancy is the welfare of the nine women at the heart of this saga. They mustered the courage to accuse Salmond of sexual abuse. According to Salmond’s devoted fans every single one of these women is a liar. Only he is telling the truth. These women’s ongoing trauma is unconscionable.

To recap, the Crown Office believed it was in the public interest to bring a criminal prosecution against Salmond. A jury last year decided the evidence presented in court did not meet the required standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Salmond was acquitted on all counts. In the eyes of the law he is an innocent man and the Holyrood inquiry is not meant to be a re-run of the trial.

And yet, reading between the lines of Salmond’s submission to MSPs it seems to me he is subtly casting new doubt on the good faith of his accusers.

In April last year Gordon Jackson, Salmond’s defence QC, was recorded having a conversation on a train about the trial. Discussing one key witness, Jackson said all he had to do was put “a smell” on her.

That strategy seems to have been extended to Salmond’s submission to the Holyrood inquiry. The complainants are not afforded the dignity of their own agency. Instead, Salmond talks of efforts to “recruit” former members of staff to make complaints against him. He describes the process of investigating his past as “a trawl” and “a fishing expedition”.

Well, if it was indeed a fishing expedition it landed a bumper catch. Ultimately he faced accusations from nine women, some of whom were strangers to each other.

It seems to me Salmond’s position can be summed up thus: “I should not have been held accountable for my alleged behaviour while first minister. I am angry that my former colleagues refused to hush up or divert complaints about my alleged sexual misconduct. I am furious that they assisted police conducting a criminal inquiry. I am outraged that they put support for complainants ahead of personal fealty to me. Meanwhile I take no responsibility for my behaviour. I make no apology.”

Sturgeon is due to give evidence to the Holyrood inquiry next week and will have to answer for her own actions. This may not go well for her. There are clear flaws in the complaints procedure she signed off as first minister, as well as its bungled application in the Salmond case. Her defence against accusations that she broke the ministerial code looks flimsy at best. A reckoning awaits.

Yet she was right, in a somewhat tense BBC TV interview she gave on Monday evening this week, to say Salmond now has to back up with evidence his accusations of a conspiracy.

Where is the evidence of collusion across all these separate branches of Scottish public life involving many dozens of career public servants? For there to be a conspiracy there must be direction from someone. Where is the evidence of such direction?

Salmond’s submission to the inquiry is full of slippery phrases a politician uses when there is no proof. Things are “common knowledge”. There are “inescapable conclusions”. A combination of events is “impossible” to explain as coincidence. Salmond claims, conveniently, that his most compelling evidence is unable to be used, for legal reasons. Take my word for it, he seems to be saying, it’s dynamite. Trust me.

There is no evidence of a conspiracy. There is only assertion and bluster. There is only dudgeon and petulance. There is only Salmond’s barely containable lust for revenge.