Scottish independence question is about more than Nicola Sturgeon vs Alex Salmond – Scotsman comment

Across the country, people have been gripped by the bitter clash between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

For some, it may have been pure political theatre, a fallout of “besties” to beat any fictional incarnations offered up by soap operas. Who is lying, who is telling the truth? It must be one or the other. Not since “who shot JR?” has the country been quite so enthralled.

However, it is important not to get too carried away and remember the task of ‘Salmond inquiry’ committee of MSPs – before which they have now both appeared – is an important one, namely, to find out what went wrong with Scottish government’s handling of complaints made about Alex Salmond to ensure that, in future, there is a legal process by which to resolve such matters. This is vital for civil servants who may wish to make similar complaints in future and to help maintain decent standards in public life.

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The fascinating nature of ‘Salmond versus Sturgeon’ means it has attracted a considerable audience and, so, if the First Minister is seen to have acted improperly it could damage support for the SNP at the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

This is one reason why the dispute has been so bitter. It is not only a fight that affects their personal reputations and fallout between two friends, but one that could damage the dream of independence shared by both the current and most recent occupants of Bute House.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has already called on the First Minister to resign saying there was “no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code on numerous counts”.

She denies breaching the code, a matter that is currently the subject of an official investigation by James Hamilton QC. When revealed, his findings are likely to sway popular opinion one way or the other as could the Salmond inquiry’s report. Expect political spin doctors to be whirling like never before when both are published.

Unionists need to do more than simply hope for Nicola Sturgeon's resignation if they are to win over hearts and minds (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

However, the question of Scotland’s continued place in the Union or its departure from it is clearly about more than either of these two SNP titans.

Unionists need to beware of being seen to take Salmond’s side in this dispute for political purposes and also of placing too much emphasis on the current First Minister’s downfall.

If she is cleared of any code breach that warrants resignation – not all do – that strategy could backfire by creating the perception of a victory. And if she is not and she is forced to resign, it would be a setback for the SNP and the independence movement, but probably a temporary one.

In the long term, unionists still have much work to do to win over the sizeable number of people in Scotland who are so dissatisfied with life in Britain that they want to embark on the considerable undertaking of creating a new independent state.

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Brexit and the Covid pandemic have created not a blank but a different canvas upon which to reshape the UK. Whether Scotland’s place remains within it will be decided not by the fate of a few individuals but by the political beliefs, hopes and dreams of the millions of people who live here.

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