Is the SNP split over handling of Alex Salmond allegations?

Alex Salmond.
Alex Salmond.
0
Have your say

To read the front pages of almost all national newspapers this morning, you would be forgiven for thinking the SNP is being torn asunder by the reaction to allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at former leader Alex Salmond.

‘Civil War’ and ‘Split’ are among the buzzwords used as disagreements are highlighted within the party over the fate of Mr Salmond, who has resigned from the party as he takes the Scottish Government to court over their handling of the allegations.

There was little information available from a meeting of the party’s parliamentarians in Edinburgh today, as Nicola Sturgeon led an ‘away day’ of MSPs and MPs.

Ms Sturgeon was expected to address the allegations against her predecessor directly, and there were even reports that the party’s politicians would be directed to avoid the Salmond issue all together.

Context

One thing that is important to note when it comes to disagreements within the SNP is that its all relative.

Decades of being focused on a single cause of independence, followed by an initial spell in Government as a minority administration has left the party with a well-earned reputation for iron discipline and unity.

The SNP hasn’t had many civil wars to deal with recently, and even minor disagreements are often avoided.

It may take more than a few parliamentarians taking a different view from the leader to constitute a civil war in the SNP, but that doesn’t mean that the schisms emerging over the Alex Salmond case aren’t notable.

Behind the leader

Nicola Sturgeon remains restricted in what she can say about Alex Salmond, especially with a legal case now underway at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

However she has made clear since this story broke that she stands behind the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, who has been criticised over her handling of the case by Mr Salmond, who charges that she acted ‘unlawfully’.

READ MORE: SNP MSP faces criticism for ‘donating’ to Alex Salmond appeal

Ms Sturgeon has also doubled down on comments backing the complaints procedure, telling the BBC this week that she needed to uphold a reputation “for fairness, for equality and for the notion we shouldn’t have one rule for the powerful and another rule for everybody else.”

However, amid claims that there was criticism towards Ms Sturgeon from her group of MPs, the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford backed the First Minister in comments in Edinburgh.

He told journalists: “I’m not getting messages from suggesting there is civil war inside the SNP. Far from it.

“There is strong support for the first minister, for the government, from parliamentarians and from party members.

Mr Blackford added: “Of course, you are always going to get the noise from social media … but I would simply say you need to keep things in context.”

Dissenting voices

That message of standing behind Nicola Sturgeon might not have got through to all of the 35 SNP MPs that Mr Blackford leads.

One MP confirmed to the Guardian that they had donated to Alex Salmond’s fundraising campaign, while another, Angus MacNeil has shared several outspoken comments on Twitter.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond allegations - what we know so far

The Western Isles MP has approvingly shared details of the progress of Alex Salmond’s crowdfunder, and retweeted a message suggesting that Leslie Evans, not Nicola Sturgeon, was running the Scottish Government.

Nor is that explicit support for Mr Salmond restricted to Westminster politicians.

Richard Lyle MSP shared a tweet that suggested that the allegations against Mr Salmond were being orchestrated by the British state.

It was also alleged yesterday that Midlothian MSP Colin Beattie had donated to the campaign, after £20 was contributed in his name.

Journalists seeking clarity on whether Mr Beattie, who is also the SNP’s treasurer, had made the donation, had their calls unanswered.

It is clear that there is a long road to go before questions about this case, both legal and political, can be fully answered.

Mr Salmond’s legal case is just getting under way, and it seems that the disagreements within the SNP about how to handle them are too.