Alex Salmond’s supporters make me fear for post-Covid Scotland – Susan Dalgety

Following the acquittal of Alex Salmond, the words of one supporter of the former first minister – that his accusers would ‘reap a whirlwind’ – make Susan Dalgety’s blood run cold.
Alex Salmond after he was cleared of sex-offence charges involving nine women (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Alex Salmond after he was cleared of sex-offence charges involving nine women (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Alex Salmond after he was cleared of sex-offence charges involving nine women (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

A dress hangs tantalisingly in my wardrobe, its silken folds a luxurious contrast with the rest of my clothes, which are mostly charity shop chic.

It cost more than the rest of my wardrobe put together, even in the sale, but when I clicked on the ‘pay now’ button three months ago, I didn’t baulk at the three-figure price tag.

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And when it arrived, and fitted perfectly, I felt the same rush of adrenaline I first enjoyed in the spring of 1974 when my red satin jacket, ordered from a classified ad in the New Musical Express, turned up six weeks after sending off a postal order.

I wore that jacket to every disco I could over the next year or so, giddy in my satin and tat, but I am not sure when I will wear my new silk dress.

I bought it for the launch of my first book, which was due to take place in the last week of June this year. The venue had been secured and I was busy drawing up the guest list when the coronavirus lockdown first loomed. “It won’t happen,” I told myself, “We can’t afford to crash the economy.”

I ignored the inevitable, when, breathless with pride, I signed up for my first-ever Fringe show. “I am going to be in the brochure, in my very own Fringe show,” I gushed. My husband nodded. He could read the signs as the number of virus victims began to mount.

And even as a sombre Boris Johnson announced a three-week lockdown, a little voice in the furthest corner of my head insisted, “it will be okay, three weeks, that is what he said, it will be okay.”

But of course, it won’t. We are approaching the start of week three, and there is no sign that restrictions that have changed our life forever will be lifted. If anything, they may be tightened.

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Pursue your dreams now

Normal life has come to shuddering halt, and my book launch will not happen in June. It may not even happen this year, and the dream I have nurtured since I first picked up a red Silvine notebook as an eager, if rather strange, six-year-old, is fading fast.

In the grand scheme of things, my personal disappointment is nothing compared to the challenges others are facing. Families are losing loved ones. People who have built successful businesses from scratch are helpless to stop them from imploding.

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Key workers are on the verge of physical and emotional collapse as they struggle to keep vital public services going. And no-one, least of all Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon, can tell us when this will all end. They can’t even tell us where the ventilators required to keep people alive are coming from, and when.

If I have learned anything in recent weeks, it is to seize the moment. At the risk of sounding like an “inspirational” fridge magnet, my advice is “stop dreaming, just do it”. I should have started writing seriously long before I hit my 60th birthday, but I kept putting it off.

It doesn’t matter what your dearest ambition is, whether it is to cultivate a beautiful garden; have a baby; learn to swim; climb Kilimanjaro; start your own business, or even just lose a stone (or two) in weight. My advice is “just do it”. Because one day it will be too late.

‘The early days of a better nation’

I hope it is not too late for Scotland. Lurking amid the terrifying headlines about Covid-19 this week was a news item that made my blood run cold.

It seems the women who raised the complaints against Alex Salmond in his recent trial are now the victims of a concerted and vicious attack by some of the former First Minister’s so-called supporters.

Suggesting that the women had colluded to destroy Salmond’s reputation, one of them howled earlier this week that there is “not a cat’s chance in hell they’re going to get away with that… They’re going to reap a whirlwind, no question about it,” he concluded in a manner reminiscent of a gangster B-movie.

Police Scotland have taken the threats so seriously that they have given the women personal alarms, and some are reported to fear for their personal safety.

I fear for our country. Unfettered public threats from senior political activists, directed towards women who had the courage to stand up for themselves, is what you expect in Mafia states like Putin’s Russia, not Scotland.

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That most Scottish of writers, the late Alasdair Gray, once wrote, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”. His epigram was eagerly adopted by nationalist supporters during the 2014 independence referendum.

Their clear message was that an independent Scotland would be a fairer, more equal, more caring country if only it were freed from the shackles of the Union. Our social, political, cultural and economic ties with England were what stopped us from becoming a “better nation,” not ourselves.

Coronavirus will pass

The aftermath of the Salmond trial suggests otherwise. As political commentators salivate over the prospect of a civil war in the SNP, and Alex Salmond flirts outrageously with a comeback, nine women live in fear.

They have become the proxy victims of a bitter war for the soul of the governing party. Instead of being able to heal, they have been dragged back into the public domain, dubbed “witches” and “liars” and threatened with retribution.

Historically, Scotland has a terrible reputation for the persecution of women. In the 16th and 17th centuries, we prosecuted three times more women for witchcraft than England, four times the European average. John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian church that shaped much of modern Scotland, argued that female rule was contrary to the teachings of the Bible. He blamed an “abominable empire of wicked women” for every challenge he and his fellow reformers faced as they campaigned to change our country.

Alex Salmond is no John Knox. Twenty-first century Scotland bears little resemblance to the 17th century country, but the aftermath of the Salmond trial suggests we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a better nation.

Like previous plagues, this coronavirus will pass, and life will get back to a new normal. But I for one don’t want to trade the disruptive terror of Covid-19 for misogyny and fear. I want to live in a better nation.