The misogyny and paranoia that has been unleashed in the wake of his acquittal is not merely an indictment of a widespread contempt for women, but an affront to the country’s one-time reputation as a beacon of rational thought.
The fact-lite vitriol that has been spewed out by online warriors, most of them anonymous, has been a source of great distress to many, myself included. It is further toxifying the Yes movement, and depriving many of those who were fundamental to building support for independence in 2014 of a political home.
Nor any longer are these bizarre utterings confined to the conspiracy theorist fringe. Last week former justice secretary, and current MP, Kenny MacAskill, claimed “dark forces” had been at play in the trial of the former first minister.
You might recall the phrase “dark forces” from prior murkiness. It has a somewhat chequered history having entered the public consciousness via Princess Diana’s butler Paul Burrell, who falsely claimed the Queen told him he was at risk from them.
Now, here is MacAskill – a former guest on Salmond’s Russia Today TV show – repeating it, as if it’s the most reasonable thing in the world to suggest the police, the Crown Office, MI5 and a loose affiliation of women with an axe to grind might have come together to bring down a man whose power was already spent.
Ironically, MacAskill’s piece in the Scottish Left Review – which claims the charges were “utter bunkum” – was almost certainly part of an orchestrated campaign to rehabilitate Salmond because, lo and behold, it was accompanied by Jim Sillars’ revelation that the former first minister is writing a book that will be like “a volcano”.
He and others see Salmond as the answer to a problem that doesn’t appear to exist. They insist the current SNP administration is too centrist, too cautious, too lacking in Salmond’s firebrand style. And yet a Panelbase poll at the end of March suggested that – despite the trial, despite attempts to smear Nicola Sturgeon – the party is on track to take a record 70 seats at the 2020 Holyrood elections.
Salmond’s cyberwarriors shouted me down when I suggested he might “set fire to the house he built just to watch his enemies burn”, but, with his book, he looks set to attempt to do just that. And for what? For his ego? For revenge? To reclaim his political crown? To set himself as a kingmaker?
Those who criticised my long read also insisted I was taking issue with the verdict. I wasn’t. I didn’t expect Salmond to be convicted on all charges, and I accept the jury’s judgment that he is guilty of none. What I do have a problem with is that, for those demanding his political rehabilitation, the bar appears to be set so low only a criminal conviction could render him unfit for office.
To those people, it doesn’t matter Salmond admitted to an inappropriate incident with a much younger civil servant, a consensual encounter with a much younger former Scottish Government official, and the kind of touchy-feely behaviour with another much younger civil servant that made a male colleague who witnessed it uncomfortable.
No amount of interviewing this or that defence witness about how they didn’t see X,Y or Z alleged incident alters those facts. My position, then, is not that Salmond is guilty of criminality, nor that everyone else’s conduct was unimpeachable (we already know from the Judicial Review that it was not). But when even your own advocate refers to you as “inappropriate” and an “arsehole”, the most dignified way to respond to your acquittal is to be grateful and enter a period of quiet self-reflection.
Talking about the loose-tongued former Dean of the Faculty, Gordon Jackson showed the same respect for the complainants in this case as he showed for his own client when he referred to one of them by name while discussing the case on the train. And yet, Salmond’s camp would rather believe he was the victim of a “set-up” than that he just didn’t care about her right to anonymity.
What does a set-up even mean in this context? Jackson was well known for his indiscretion, gathering reporters round him like a Higgs Boson particle. Many of those journalists travelled back to Glasgow every day by train. I don’t know the provenance of the footage in the Sunday Times story, but even supposing one journalist engaged him in the kind of conversation he was known for having, while another recorded it, this would not constitute entrapment.
Then again, many of those commenting on Twitter have no understanding of the law. They believe, or purport to believe, Salmond’s acquittal means a) the case should not have brought (nonsense); b) the women are necessarily liars (nonsense) and c) the women should be charged with perjury (nonsense – otherwise every complainant in every failed prosecution would be charged). Nor have they any interest in trying to understand power dynamics in the workplace, or male entitlement, or the shifting cultural mores that have rendered certain types of behaviour unacceptable.
The unfettered repetition of falsehoods is having a real impact on women. On the complainants, who are having their reputations trashed, but also on those who may well look at how this has unfolded and decide there is no point in reporting their own experiences.
And it has been unfettered. One of the most depressing aspects of this affair is that supposedly enlightened SNP voices – the ones who used to slide into your DMs and offer support – have done nothing to counter this narrative. I accept those at the heart of government have more important things to be getting on with. But there are others who must realise what is happening is unhinged and damaging, yet have kept their own counsel. I won’t name them. They know who they are.
As for this column, I thought long and hard about writing it because I know what the repercussions will be. But many women have contacted me over the past few weeks to tell me how distressed they are that a sizable section of the movement is behaving in such an unedifying way – and being met with next to no resistance. I am also aware that, had I not been on the receiving end of so much abuse myself, I would have written a piece long before now, and that seems cowardly. So, here we go again.
Anyway, this is not about me. It is, rather, a rallying cry to measured voices within the mainstream SNP and Yes movement: speak up against these prevaricators and equivocators, who would rather invest in the pretence of “dark forces” than countenance the possibility Salmond might be flawed. Speak up before they destroy the thing you love.