Independence is bigger than Alex Salmond and will weather further storms – Kenny MacAskill

I’ve known Alex Salmond for over 50 years. As I said to young people visiting Holyrood when he was First Minister, I was even at school with him.
Alex Salmond bumps elbow with Gordon Jackson QC after he was cleared of all charges (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Alex Salmond bumps elbow with Gordon Jackson QC after he was cleared of all charges (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Alex Salmond bumps elbow with Gordon Jackson QC after he was cleared of all charges (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Though the age gap precluded a friendship then, it was forged by being together for over 40 years on the political campaign trail. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of up and downers with him over the years but we trusted each other and there’s been mutual respect and support.

There was an ironic moment a few months back when Alex had a coffee with Jim Sillars and I. For over the years Jim and I have been viewed as his most vocal internal party critics. Yet, both of us stood in support of him throughout. We did so as we knew the mark of the man and his contribution to our cause.

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It was for that reason that I was delighted that the jury acquitted him. That outcome seems to have been to the chagrin of some who seem to doubt the jury’s decision. Though I have to say that most of his senior political opponents that I spoke to were either wishing him well or at minimum expressing the view that the allegations were not the man they knew. That was also the overwhelming view of those from what might be described as Old SNP and had watched him build the party that now dominates Scotland.

Accusations were political

But a few seemed intent on getting some perverse pleasure from his assumed demise. Opinion of him varied between those who revered him and those who loathed him with few neutrals. For some it was the threat to their beliefs and with others a mixture of fear and loathing, as he is an outstanding political strategist and formidable debater.

Sadly, a few of them were even within the SNP and that is far harder to explain. But they require to be held to account. The jury believed him and it was clear that the basis of his defence set out extremely eloquently and powerfully by his defence QC Gordon Jackson, himself a former Labour MSP, was that the accusations were political.

As Alex alluded to, only the tip of the iceberg came out during the trial. Much more will come. But it’s clear that WhatsApp groups from a coterie of leading party individuals were seeking to do much more than simply a citizen’s duty of cooperating with the police. Indeed, it seems a few were maybe intent on instigating it.

It’s neither the time nor place to consider this as life as we know it is dominated by the coronavirus crisis. Everything is subsumed by it as our people’s health is threatened along with the society we cherish and the economy that sustains it. But a time will come and a reckoning there must be.

Politics is by nature a contact sport. Even those who espouse a new form of politics still engage in it, indeed often more viciously and sneakily than the old heavy weight bruisers. I’ve received many a low blow and am ashamed to say I’ve even landed a few myself. But never have either I done or had done to me anything that would have totally traduced my reputation, let alone face the likelihood of a significant jail sentence. That despite being viewed as one of those political battlers.

There do need to be resignations within the SNP. A few have acted despicably and many of us feel a breach of trust. To whom do these individuals work and for what purpose are they acting? They cannot remain and a few others now face questionmarks over why they are in the positions they hold, as it certainly hasn’t been on ability. They should go quietly under the cover of coronavirus.

For others too there must be a reckoning. The taxpayer picked up a tab amounting to more than £500,000 in a civil case that was described by the High Court Judge as tainted with bias. That’ll be a small fraction to the costs of a criminal investigation, the likes of which is normally reserved for the most heinous of crimes. Those that failed to accept culpability then must surely do so when an appropriate juncture is reached with the passing of this crisis.

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As for the independence cause, those who predict its demise can dream on. It’s bigger than any individual and can survive another bump in the road. Irish independence survived the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell. His relationship with Kitty O’Shea while not criminal was contrary to the mores of the time. They slandered great Parnell but Ireland still broke free. They’ve tried the same with Salmond but so has he and so will Scotland.

Kenny MacAskill is SNP MP for East Lothian