Alex Salmond is going home a free man. He has been found not guilty on all charges except one which was found not proven, and another charge which was dropped by the prosecution earlier in the trial. Our faith in Scottish justice shines today and BBC Scotland’s Sarah Smith has gone into self-isolation. Was it just me or did she seem to be barely containing her displeasure as she reported the verdict?
The British nationalists were rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of Alex Salmond being handcuffed and sent to prison. All over the country, newspaper editors are having to bin their gleefully malicious headlines, and the British nationalist frothers on social media are having a collective meltdown. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was supposed to be all their SNPbad Schadenfreude union flag Christmasses come at once, and it’s all been snatched away by the common sense of a Scottish jury.
It should go without saying that the cause of independence is greater than any one of us. We are all the rocks that support this movement. We are all the trees in the Great Caledonian Forest. It is also true that nothing that has happened today changes the contempt with which successive British governments and British politicians have treated Scotland. Even if Alex Salmond had been convicted on one or more of the charges he faced, Brexit would still be happening. Boris Johnson would still be fnaugh fnaughing his posh boy disdain for Scottish democracy. Johnson would still be in charge during a health crisis which he is so clearly incapable of rising to. All the reasons for independence would have remained exactly the same, and once the dust from the trial had settled, the dynamic driving support for independence would inevitably reassert itself.
But Alex Salmond is and will always be a giant amongst us. He’s the foundation upon which we build our path. He has, more than any other individual, wrested the cause of Scottish independence out of the jaws of hopelessness and marginalisation where it languished for generations and brought it squarely into the very centre of Scottish political debate and discussion. No more can it be ignored. No more can anyone, least of all a British nationalist, pretend that it’s not a serious prospect. Above all, that’s thanks to Alex Salmond. He is the individual who our opponents have striven to identify personally with the independence cause. Removing him from the picture under a cloud of disgrace would have given them a cheap and handy weapon with which to taunt us for years to come.
This verdict comes after two extensive investigations, one by the Scottish Goverment, and one by Police Scotland. Both have cleared Alex Salmond. There are now questions to be answered about what seems to have been a particularly vicious bout of party infighting which was allowed to get so spectacularly and dangerously out of hand. As he spoke to the media after his acquittal, Alex mentioned that there was evidence which he was not allowed to present in court, and that would come out when the time was appropriate. There will be scores to settle here, but we can now hope that this will not be a destructive process, but rather one which ensures that the SNP is a party which provides justice and fair treatment to those accused of wrongdoing.
There has been some disquiet for a while about the way in which the party seems to turn on its own. There has been disquiet for a while that the party seems to have lost its focus on the goal of independence in favour of the goal of governing a devolved administration well. There will be immense disquiet if it is proven that there are those within the SNP who were prepared to risk such a potentially disastrous outcome as the conviction of Alex Salmond for their personal ends within the party. Because if that is indeed true, then they were not merely prepared to see the personal destruction and humiliation of a former First Minister, they would also have been prepared to see the independence movement suffer a humiliating and deeply damaging reverse.
So yes, there are uncomfortable times ahead, but unlike the conviction of Alex Salmond on charges of sexual assault, these uncomfortable times will only lead to a stronger and more focussed SNP, an SNP which is better able to lead the independence movement. There are uncomfortable times ahead for Nicola Sturgeon, as questions will be asked about what she knew and when she knew it, all the more so since one of the statements she gave to Holyrood appears to be at variance with the evidence that was presented during the trial. There may be an innocent explanation, we shall have to wait and see. Those who were so keen to assert that Alex Salmond was innocent of wrongdoing before the investigation and the trial must also extend that presumption to Nicola Sturgeon. That’s doubly the case for those who claim to be zealous in their pursuit of independence. They would then be guilty of the exact same sin that they would convict Nicola Sturgeon of – allowing their personal agendas to damage the independence cause and giving our opponents a weapon with which to hurt us.
Under normal circumstances, this political story would be all that occupied the news. But as we all know these are not normal times. In his dignifed and statesman like comments to the press after his acquittal, Alex said that the tribulations which he has faced recently pall into insignificance compared to the life or death issues facing so many people as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. There will be a time for dealing with the fallout from his trial, and for dealing with the circumstances within the SNP which led to it. That time will come, but it is not now.
Today is a day for breathing a collective sigh of relief. One of the giants of the Scottish independence movement will now be able to focus his efforts on helping us toward that goal we all share. He will not be languishing in prison, with a conviction around his neck which would have destroyed his reputation. He will not be able to be used by our opponents as a stick with which to beat us, he will be one of the biggest sticks beating the drum for independence. For that, every supporter of independence is grateful.
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