John McLellan: Alex Salmond's reputation is already in tatters

Ex-First Minister Alex Salmond's RT show and decision to crowdfund legal challenge speak volumes about him, writes John McLellan.

Having looked back at the way the SNP has handled recent allegations against a clutch of its elected members, I wrote a short article for Thursday’s Edinburgh Evening News which concluded that ex-First Minister Alex Salmond should have voluntarily suspended his SNP membership while facing allegations of sexual harassment.

“Mr Salmond could have saved the First Minister the embarrassment of having to justify the party’s decision [not to suspend him] by suspending himself,” I wrote. “Without admitting guilt, that would have shown real responsibility, humility and leadership.”

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Not that Mr Salmond gives two hoots what I think, or anyone else for that matter, but when I heard late on Wednesday night he had indeed resigned from the SNP I had a brief moment of panic because the article had been overtaken by events, followed by some relief that at least I’d called it correctly.

Alex Salmond is taking legal action against the Scottish Government over its handling of complaints about sexual misconduct

Well, almost correctly. It was already too late to show responsibility and leadership, given we know now that he’d known about the allegations for some months and had regular discussions with First Minster Nicola Sturgeon about them. Humility? Mr Salmond doesn’t do humility and I didn’t really expect him to resign his membership. And sure enough launching a crowd-funding appeal to pay for his judicial review of the Scottish Government process and tying it in with the independence cause was anything but humble and fanned the flames beneath Nationalist conspiracy theories, as if that was necessary.

“I will continue to serve the independence movement in whatever role and whatever capacity I can,” he said on his crowd-funding page. No surprise there, but what followed was a clear attempt to conflate the cause and his own situation. “It is a rare thing to be devoted to a cause more important than any individual, it is a precious thing to cherish it and my intention now – as it has always been – is to protect and sustain that cause.”

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Whether this produces a long-term damaging split in the SNP remains to be seen, but there were enough pledges of to hit the £50,000 target within hours and, at time of writing, the fund was approaching £100,000 with over 4,000 donors. Mr Salmond has only given a vague promise to use the excess to “support good causes in Scotland and beyond”, but the use of “support” rather than “donate” is intriguing. Those who trouser up might want to ask how the rest of the money will be spent, in case “good causes beyond” means more trade trips to Iran with Tasmina Ahmed-Sheik.

Mr Salmond is, of course, innocent of the harassment allegations until proven guilty, but his reputation is being wrecked by his own actions. Ill-judged performances at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, the cringe-worthy show on Russian propaganda channel RT, and now the abuse of the independence movement to raise money on the pretext that this affair is about more than the proper investigation of serious allegations are not the actions of the self-aware.

Yet he had it in his grasp to become a respected elder statesman after what few could deny was a spectacularly successful political career. Years ago, Mr Salmond gave up his horse-racing column for this newspaper because he felt it was incompatible with the need, as he put it, to be seen as an “homme serieux”. Clearing his name of the harassment allegations is one thing, but his reputation as a serious man of keen judgement may be smashed forever.