Support for Alex Salmond to rejoin SNP and independence battle grows more vocal

Alex Salmond rejoining the SNP would be a massive boost for the independence movement, a prominent nationalist councillor has said, with debate raging within the party over the future involvement of its ex-leader.

Alex Salmond leaves Edinburgh High Court. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Alex Salmond leaves Edinburgh High Court. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

The former first minister resigned his membership in August 2018, claiming he wanted to focus on a judicial review against the Scottish Government over its handling of the two complaints made against him.

He won that legal challenge in January 2019 only to then be charged by Police Scotland on several counts of sexual assault, including one of intent to rape.

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Salmond was cleared of all charges at the High Court in Edinburgh last Monday following a two-week trial.

Chris McEleny, an SNP councillor in Inverclyde, said that legal victory meant there was nothing preventing the former leader being welcomed back into the party fold.

He told Scotland on Sunday there was “widespread and overwhelming” support for Salmond among SNP members.

“Alex Salmond’s resignation wasn’t classed as a public resignation – which is a technical argument some are bizarrely trying to promote,” he said.

“To be classed as a public resignation the resignation has to be deemed as intending to harm the party, the national secretary needs to inform the NEC of the party and it needs to be deemed as such.

“On the contrary, his resignation was thought by the party membership to be a selfless act in the best interest of the party and the independence movement.

“The party didn’t deem it a public resignation, therefore Alex has nothing in his way of rejoining the party if that is what he wants to do. In fact, after we hopefully tackle the current coronavirus crisis, with Boris Johnson currently blocking the people of Scotland having a choice on their future,

“Alex Salmond rejoining the SNP would be a massive boost for the independence movement.”

Allies of Nicola Sturgeon have privately indicated fear there is nothing they can do to block Salmond from rejoining the party he led on two separate occasions for almost two decades.

Senior sources close to the First Minister told one London newspaper last week they thought Salmond’s reentry to the SNP would be “automatic” as he resigned before he was suspended over the allegations.

Several senior nationalists last week publicly backed their former leader formally rejoining the independence movement.

Alex Neil, an SNP MSP who served as health secretary under Salmond, told the Daily Record: “I do not see why Alex should not be back in the party. He was acquitted of all charges. The SNP cannot ignore someone of his talents and achievements.

“I would be happy for Alex to be back at Holyrood.

“He nearly led Scotland to independence. He would absolutely enhance the reputation of the Parliament. He’s a heavyweight.”

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP MP for East Lothian who previously served as justice secretary at Holyrood, said the political fall-out from the Salmond trial is “just another bump in the road” for the Scottish independence movement.

Writing in The Scotsman, the MP for East Lothian said the wider independence movement was “bigger than any individual”.

But the MP also warned there needed to be “resignations” from the SNP over how initial complaints against its former leader were handled, suggesting that some in the party had acted “despicably”.

He said: “It’s neither the time nor place to consider this as life as we know it is dominated by the coronavirus crisis. Everything is subsumed by it as our people’s health is threatened along with the society we cherish.

“But a time will come and a reckoning there must be.”

The veteran nationalist added: “A few have acted despicably and many of us feel a breach of trust.

“They cannot remain and a few others now face questions marks.”