Ego, not Scottish independence, is at heart of Alex Salmond's return - Euan McColm

If Alex Salmond had been a better man, he would not have been in the dock of the High Court in Edinburgh last year, charged with a number of sex offences. That’s not my assessment, but the view of the QC defending him.

Addressing the jury, which was later to clear the former first minister of all charges, Gordon Jackson said he was not there to suggest Salmond had always behaved well. That, he conceded, would be a waste of his time.

But, Jackson went on, he was in a court of law and was not dealing with the question of whether Salmond could have been a better man – “because he certainly could have been better” – but with whether he was guilty of serious criminal charges.

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Later, caught on video on a train, Jackson was more forthright about Salmond’s failings. The man who’d taken Scottish Nationalists to within touching distance of independence was “inappropriate”, “stupid”, “an arsehole” who Jackson reckoned had been “quite an objectionable bully to work with … a nightmare to work for”.

Alex Salmond with his defence lawyer Gordon Jackson QC. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Alex Salmond with his defence lawyer Gordon Jackson QC. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Of course, Salmond walked free from court last year. But the fact that he was found not guilty of 12 charges and the jury decided a 13th was not proven does not make him a good man. If he were a good man, Jackson would not have felt compelled to make his inadequacies a central part of the defence case.

When Salmond announced on Friday his decision to stand in May’s Holyrood elections as leader of the Alba Party, he was understandably keen to put his recent legal difficulties behind him. He wanted to move on and so did the people of Scotland, he said. He trotted out his current favourite soundbite about three inquiries, two court cases, and one jury. It was time, he said, for him to return to Holyrood to help bring about a pro-independence “supermajority” which would, seemingly, compel Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree to a second independence referendum.

Just a few weeks ago, Salmond was accusing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of misleading Parliament, now here he was offering to ally with her in the campaign to break up the UK.

Doubtless, there are some out there who believe Salmond is not yet a spent political force. They excuse the fact he takes Kremlin money to present a show on Vladimir Putin’s propaganda TV channel, RT; they buy into conspiracy theories that say the allegations levelled against him by a number of women were cooked up in order to remove him from the political stage; they regard Sturgeon as the mastermind of a plot to have an innocent man jailed.

These people – these dupes – may well decide to give the Alba Party their list votes in May, and Salmond may well return to Holyrood. But if his supporters believe he will advance the likelihood of a second referendum one whit, they are fools.

The awkward, impregnable, unmovable, unshakable truth remains that the power to establish an independence referendum remains firmly in the possession of the UK government, and the presence of Salmond in Holyrood will not force Johnson to change his mind and greenlight indyref2. The people who argue that Johnson would be unable to refuse a second referendum if Holyrood ends up with a huge pro-independence majority have not been paying attention to him.

In fact, Salmond’s presence at Holyrood would only harm the Nationalist cause. He has hardly been shy about criticising Sturgeon on strategy while a civilian. Why would that constant commentary on what she is doing wrong be any more useful if it was coming from inside the debating chamber?

I suspect Salmond’s plan has precious little to do with the issue of independence; this whole thing stinks of ego and vengeance. Salmond, a puffed-up little bully, has been humiliated in recent years – first at the hands of the voters of Gordon in 2017, and then as he faced the consequences of his failure to be a better man. It is entirely unsurprising that Salmond should wish to prove wrong anyone who dares doubt his brilliance.

It would be bleakly comical if it were not for the fact that we may be about to see the return to Holyrood of a man whose behaviour towards female colleagues was criticised by his own QC during a criminal trial.

The MeToo movement was supposed to mark a real change in the experiences of women in the workplace. It was supposed to be the moment when we all – in particular, men, because so many men had abused their positions – agreed that enough was enough and that the days of laughing off the crossing of boundaries were over.

What, I wonder, would the return of Salmond to Holyrood say about whether our politics has changed for the better?

Over the next six weeks, Salmond will be a thorn in Sturgeon’s side. She will be fighting the election campaign on two fronts. First, there’s the fight with her opponents, the Unionist parties. Second, there’s the fight with her enemies, Salmond and his acolytes.

It would be hugely pleasing if Salmond were to fail in his mission. His bullying, bullshitting bluster left a terrible stink on our politics. The scent lingers still and it will come flooding back if he takes a seat.

Jackson said that if Salmond had been a better man, he would not have ended up in court last year. If Salmond had considered taking steps to become that better man, he wouldn’t be forming a new political party and standing for election, he would be living quietly, praying that the damage he has caused others might heal.

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