Alex Salmond provided no proof of monstrous plot, because none exists - Euan McColm

The stage had been set for an explosive performance. Alex Salmond’s rage had been simmering for a year and now he was ready to erupt.
Alex Salmond played his hand well at his committee appearanceAlex Salmond played his hand well at his committee appearance
Alex Salmond played his hand well at his committee appearance

We expected fire and fury. We expected Salmond at his foul-tempered worst.

But, when the moment came, there was only calm and reason. When the former first minister appeared on Friday in front of a committee examining the collapse of a Scottish Government inquiry into allegation levelled against him of inappropriate behaviour towards female colleagues, he appeared the very model of humility.

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Ever since Salmond successfully challenged the legality of a Scottish Government investigation into complaints from two women about his behaviour, he has let it be known that he has Nicola Sturgeon firmly fixed in his sights. Friends of Salmond’s have provided a relentless narrative of the current First Minister as schemer and liar. Salmond himself has accused his former protégé of lying to parliament about what and when she knew about the complaints he faced.

Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government. Picture: Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty ImagesLeslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government. Picture: Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty Images
Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government. Picture: Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty Images

As Salmond has ratcheted up the pressure on Sturgeon, she has had no choice but to defend herself. Last week, she lashed out at Salmond, accusing him of painting himself as the victim of a conspiracy without a shred of evidence.

His appearance before the Holyrood committee, she added, was Salmond’s opportunity to “replace the insinuation and assertion we have heard over several months now with evidence”. Sturgeon didn’t believe Salmond could do that because she knew what he was claiming about a conspiracy was not true.

When Salmond walked free from the High Court in Edinburgh last year, cleared by a jury of a number of charges including sexual assault and attempted rape, he told waiting reporters that his team had, for legal reasons, been unable to lead certain pieces of evidence. That evidence, he promised, would see the light of day in the fullness of time.

If his appearance in front of the investigating committee on Friday is anything to go by, we shall have to wait a while longer for that evidence. Salmond did not provide proof of his version of events, which is a story of powerful forces acting in concert to put an end to his career in public life.

The reason he provided no proof of a monstrous plot against him is, of course, that none exists. The reason there was an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him was not because former colleagues wished to remove him from public life, but because two women came forward to make complaints. The reason there was a court cases involving several more women was that several more women made complaints to the police. It really is as simple and as depressing as that.

But Salmond – a man of colossal ego and vengeful nature – demands vindication and if that means continuing to pursue a narrative of himself as victim and the complainers as conspirators, well, so be it.

It cannot be denied that the Scottish Government has hardly helped the complainers avoid the completely erroneous suggestion that they are somehow complicit in a plot. The ruling that the investigation against Salmond was unlawful should have seen permanent secretary Leslie Evans offered the opportunity of resignation or dismissal.

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But the wrongs of the civil service investigation do not make Salmond’s version of events right. Nor is his claim of victimhood made stronger by the undeniable fact that statements made by Sturgeon and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, about the whole messy business appear to be contradictory.

Alex Salmond is, so far as I can see, a victim of the behaviour of Alex Salmond.

Sturgeon, however, is not in the clear. When she appears in front of the investigating committee later this week, she faces uncomfortable questions about meetings with Salmond in her Glasgow home where the allegations against him were discussed. She faces questions about what she knew and when.

Politics is a dirty old game and we should bear in mind that, for opposition politicians, the stated objective may be to get to the bottom of why the investigation of allegations against Salmond collapsed but the true prize is damaging Sturgeon.

And so many of the SNP’s opponents will be perfectly happy to take Salmond’s remarks to committee members on Friday as gospel. After all, if the former first minister is telling the truth then the current one must be lying.

Sturgeon is not helped by the fact that Salmond gave an impressive performance in front of the committee. Anyone watching news reports will have seen a man who seemed earnest and even humble. The former first minister is anything but humble, of course, but you don’t get to the top of politics without having a little of the performer about you.

Allies of the current First Minister have long been adamant that she will come through this process with her reputation intact. She should not, they say – not unreasonably – pay a price for a mess created by Salmond’s behaviour.

I wonder if those colleagues are quite so sure of Sturgeon’s position, now.

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Salmond did not produce a smoking gun, there was no killer blow against the woman who was once his protégé. But he was calm and measured and sounded perfectly plausible. If the idea that he is a victim gains purchase, Sturgeon may struggle to convince voters that she has nothing to hide.

That may not be fair but it is, I’m afraid, how politics works.



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