Kenny MacAskill: Alex Salmond case shows agenda of Sturgeon's inner circle

A coterie surrounding the SNP leadership seem to be so intent on protecting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that anyone who might taint her administration is driven out, writes Kenny MacAskill, citing the treatment of Alex Salmond, Mark McDonald and Michelle Thompson.

Alex Salmond speaks to the press after winning a judicial review against the Scottish Government (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As Salmondgate continues, I was minded of the old adage that when you’re in a hole stop digging. It wasn’t just the court that decided but the Scottish Government which conceded that the latter’s actions had been “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”. Anyone of those would be serious enough but all three collectively is pretty much “slam dunk” for an administrative debacle.

You’d have thought that would have encouraged some contrition or at least some caution, but instead it seemed the line was ‘we’ve starting digging and we’re intent on continuing’. To be fair, they say they’ve paused pending ongoing police investigations but the clear implication was that they could continue. That was not just disingenuous but false.

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Had the Scottish Government wished, they could have acknowledged procedural failings and sought to have the court case remitted for further action by them. That’s often the case in judicial reviews and can be a pyrrhic victory for a litigant as, though successful, it allows for the defender to do what they were intent on doing but this time using the correct procedure.

But that the Scottish Government did not do, as they’ve accepted that the procedure was fundamentally flawed. The notion that it can be reconsidered by the very people who are clearly tainted is absurd. Nor did the court dismiss Mr Salmond’s other grounds as was suggested by them. The reality was the court never got around to considering them as their case fell at the first hurdle so to speak. The others would very likely have followed suit.

So, the saga remains in limbo but it should be cue for Police Scotland to speed up their investigation. The sooner the police file their report into the allegations that were referred to them and cease crawling all over the former First Minister’s entire life history the better. As the opposition are prone to saying they should get back to the day job.

Tuesday’s hearing was dealing with procedural matters but it’s also worth remembering that criminal cases are decided on proof beyond reasonable doubt, whilst civil ones are on the balance of probabilities. There’s nothing I’ve seen or read or even heard through the grapevine that constitutes the latter, let alone the former. The former FM has admitted to being no angel but let him without sin cast the first stone.

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Scottish Government decisions on this issue were taken by officials and it’s for them to consider their position, though the consequences have been high profile, expensive and calamitous for the administration. Were it a minister then a resignation would be inevitable, but none are directly involved.

However, questions still arise for some in senior positions in the SNP as a pattern seems to be forming, albeit being in a cack-handed manner. For sure, everything possible needs done to protect the rights of alleged victims, but so must the accused be afforded protections. And in that aspect, some in senior positions within the SNP are now getting form for being judgemental, if not injudicious, and certainly downright prejudicial.

Besides Alex Salmond, there have been the cases of Mark McDonald and Michelle Thompson. In many ways, they fixed the bar and set the tone the SNP were going to take. As a longstanding member, I have been through party indiscretions and party expulsions. Some actions are unforgivable and require stern action, others can be dealt with more leniently, as it’s the same in a political party as it is in a criminal court.

Immediate action does need taken against a member accused of illegality especially someone in an elected and public position. However, even though a speedy suspension is often justified, a formal judgement and a balanced position thereafter require to be taken as soon as possible.

Yet it now seems that, for a coterie surrounding the SNP leadership, not one blemish must be allowed to be cast upon the party leader and First Minister. She is to be whiter than white and the SNP purer than the driven snow. Misconduct will not be tolerated and any who might taint her are to be driven out, whether by leaks to the press or overt actions.

They’ve unleashed the “unca guid” who seek out and denounce those who have fallen from the path of righteousness and so it happened with Mark McDonald. His behaviour was wrong and he accepted that. However, his misdemeanour at its highest – and for which there has never been any suggestion of criminality – was to have been crass in behaviour and text messages.

Yet, he has been treated as if he were some Scottish Hannibal Lecter and has been pilloried when, at most, he’s been a stupid laddie and rightly apologised for it. Far worse behaviour has been perpetrated by others not just in opposition parties within Holyrood but in Westminster. The tone though was set by some surrounding the First Minister who set McDonald up for the slaughter. Rather than punishing him but then standing by him, they threw him to the wolves.

Michelle Thompson was likewise cast adrift and even when it was clear that no action was being taken against her, she was to be kept away. Whilst there was no need for contrition as the SNP had done what was necessary, some ‘welcome back and sorry for what you’ve been through’ might have been expected. But no, the door remained firmly shut.

Alex Salmond was also subjected to an internal SNP inquiry where former staff were approached about him. On what basis has never been explained, but given that civil and police investigations were ongoing, why was that done?

It’s understandable that staff in a government or political party seek to protect the leader. But they also have a wider duty to other members. Some appear to have acted with no consideration for the rights of others and may even have carried out actions that were prejudicial and unfair. That needs to stop. Loyalty needs not just to be earned but shown, and that has been remiss lately within the SNP leadership.