MacAskill: Ruthless SNP will shield Nicola Sturgeon at all costs

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An inner circle of hardliners surrounding Nicola Sturgeon are “driving out” anyone who threatens to damage the SNP leader’s public reputation, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill writes in today’s Scotsman.

In his opinion column, Mr MacAskill calls into question the party’s treatment of Alex Salmond over his sexual harassment case, accusing senior figures of a “prejudicial and unfair” approach in order to protect the current First Minister. 
Mr MacAskill was at Mr Salmond’s side in the Court of Session in Edinburgh this week as the former SNP leader won a dramatic victory against the Scottish Government over its handling of a sexual harassment inquiry into accusations against him.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The former justice minister is one of Mr Salmond’s closest political allies and his intervention in The Scotsman today will further inflame the deteriorating relations between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon.

“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,” Mr MacAskill writes.

“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.”

Mr Salmond has demanded an inquiry into leaks about details of his case which emerged in the press and believes these came from inside the Scottish Government.

Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond addresses the media outside the Court Of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Andy Buchanan

Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond addresses the media outside the Court Of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Andy Buchanan

There are now questions for senior figures in the SNP to answer over the pattern which has emerged for turning on party figures who are seen to have transgressed, Mr MacAskill added.

“Some in senior positions within the SNP are now getting form for being judgmental, if not injudicious, and certainly downright prejudicial,” he states.

“Besides Alex Salmond, there have been the cases of Mark McDonald and Michelle Thompson.”

Mr McDonald quit as children’s minister in November 2017 after sending a text message which contained a reference to a sex act. He was later suspended by the SNP and subsequently quit the party, but now sits in Holyrood as an independent.

But he was “thrown to the wolves” according to Mr MacAskill and treated like a “Scottish Hannibal Lecter”.

Although Mr MacAskill accepts that measures may sometimes be needed to protect the leader, there is also a “wider duty” to the 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.”

Mr MacAskill has previously raised questions over the fact that Ms Sturgeon leads that party, while her husband Peter Murrell is chief executive. He was in the post before she became leader.

Ms Sturgeon’s closest political adviser, former SNP media chief, Liz Lloyd, was among those scheduled to give evidence at Mr Salmond’s judicial review next week, before the case was settled by the Scottish Government yesterday. Ministers dismissed any link between this and the case being dropped, insisting it collapsed over a “procedural flaw” in the investigation.

The botched Scottish Government inquiry into Mr Salmond is likely to cost taxpayers somewhere in the region of £500,000 in legal bills after he was awarded full costs.

He has also declared he is considering suing the government he once led. Mr MacAskill also dismissed claims from the Scottish Government that the other grounds of Mr Salmond’s case was rejected by the Court of Session.

“The court never got round to considering them as their case fell at the first hurdle,” he said.

“The others would very likely have followed suit.”

Mr Salmond is still facing a criminal inquiry, but the former Justice Secretary called on 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.”

Mr Salmond’s court victory this week has marked a new low in relations between him and former protege Ms Sturgeon after he called on the country’s top civil servant Leslie Evans to resign in the aftermath of the Scottish Government’s defeat.

But the First Minister later told MSPs at Holyrood she had full confidence in Ms Evans.