Scottish election 2021 results: Did the Alex Salmond inquiry damage Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP?

For opponents, the Alex Salmond inquiry was meant to be the defining failure of Nicola Sturgeon.

It saw a First Minister doused in scandal due to her government’s failure to adequately handle sexual harassment allegations against one of the most high profile politicians in Scotland’s history.

For Ms Sturgeon, it was close to six months of intense scrutiny of her actions, accusations of failures and criminal leaks within her party and misconduct on her own behalf.

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The inquiry became increasingly political, with the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour keen to gain as much political capital as possible ahead of such a key election.

ALBA party leader Alex Salmond watches votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the P&J Live/TECA, Aberdeen.ALBA party leader Alex Salmond watches votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the P&J Live/TECA, Aberdeen.
ALBA party leader Alex Salmond watches votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the P&J Live/TECA, Aberdeen.

It was also a damaging exercise for the SNP.

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Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive and husband to the leader, performed verbal gymnastics at his two appearances to the dismay of the majority of the watching public.

John Swinney, so long a reliable figure, was attacked for obstructing the committee, refusing to release legal advice and ignoring the will of Parliament.

This, when combined together, should have hurt the SNP at the election.

Instead, Nicola Sturgeon’s composed performance in front of the committee and her eventual acquittal by James Hamilton, who investigated her potential breaches of the ministerial code, emboldened supporters of the SNP leader.

Rather than weaken her, she left the inquiry strengthened.

Her opponents, especially Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross, who called for her resignation before her evidence session, were viewed as having acted prematurely and with eyes only for a scalp.

The real loser was the man whose accusations of conspiracy and “malicious” attempts to remove him from public life by the SNP, the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate, had led to months of media attention.

Mr Salmond’s political revival in the form of the Alba party was built on the belief by a section of the pro-independence supporting population that he was, unquestionably, the victim of a political conspiracy.

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It was built on the assumption the sheer force of the former SNP leader’s undoubted political abilities and personality could deliver not just a referendum, but independence. Now.

In the end Mr Salmond cut a lonely figure at the count in Aberdeen.

The former first minister will fail to return to frontline politics discredited by the allegations he was acquitted of in the criminal trial and roundly defeated at the ballot box.

Votes are still being counted, but his hopes of a victorious return to Holyrood with Alba appears to have gone spectacularly poorly.

Scots overwhelmingly rejected the party led by a man whose ‘sleepy cuddles’ made headlines nationwide. There now appears no way back.

In terms of the inquiry, it was also Mr Salmond’s last hurrah, of weeks spent playing with the parliamentary committee over his eventual appearance amid legal threats as claims of deep state corruption emanated from his camp and his supporters.

By the end, he still claimed he could have “destroyed” his successor, and his behaviour vindicated by a familiar refrain of three court cases, two inquiries, a jury, and a ‘lady judge’.

In reality, by backing Ms Sturgeon, the people have taken him down.

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