By Charlotte King
With the rise of the #MeToo Movement empowering victims of sexual harassment to speak out and widening concerns regarding sexual harassment in British politics, the Scottish government made changes to their complaints procedure earlier this year.
Just weeks later, two senior civil servants from the Scottish government lodged complaints regarding sexual misconduct against the former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and First Minister, Alex Salmond, culminating in his resignation from the party on August 29th.
Salmond announced his resignation via social media, which can be seen here: https://twitter.com/AlexSalmond/status/1034886088547098624
Salmond is a well-recognised face in Scottish politics, leading the SNP between 1990-2000, and 2004-2014. He is also the former Scottish First Minister, elected in 2007, who stood down in 2014 following the unsuccessful Scottish independence referendum result. In a statement, he announced he has been a devoted member of the SNP for 45 years.
A review into the allegations made against Salmond which emerged last week has put Nicola Sturgeon, the current First Minister and leader of the SNP, under pressure to suspend his membership to satisfy MSPs. Salmond states that he has resigned as a member of the party to avoid exacerbating any “internal division[s]”. However, he makes it clear that he “absolutely rejects” these allegations made against him and urges that no one else need “relinquish” their SNP membership.
The two sexual misconduct allegations made against Salmond refer to events which transpired in 2013 whilst he was Scotland’s First Minister, one of which is said to have occurred in the First Minister’s official residence of Bute House in Edinburgh. The investigation has recently been passed over to Police Scotland. The former MSP calls these allegations “patently ridiculous”.
Salmond has announced that he believes the processing of these complaints is “unjust” and has launched a crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of taking legal action against the Scottish government. The former First Minister states that those handling the allegations have “not allowed [him] to see the evidence” and feels that this is unfair.
Alex Salmond’s crowdfunding appeal’s target of raising £50,000 was met in mere hours. On the morning of August 30th, over £70,000 had been raised by well over 2500 contributors. Salmond states that this appeal was initiated because “many have asked how they can help directly”.
However, Salmond’s appeal has not received a warm welcome from opposing Scottish parties, who view the move as a potential distraction from the sexual misconduct allegations and an abuse of power. Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant states that Salmond is sending a signal to those filing the complaints that “he has the upper hand”. Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour MSP for Dumbarton, believes that “[Scottish] politics should be better than this”.
Grant further comments “that an independently wealthy man with his celebrity and political power is to raise legal fees through a crowdfunder for a case ultimately linked to sexual harassment is unbelievable”. Members of the Scottish Conservatives resonate with these views from Scottish Labour, with MSP Annie Wells calling Salmond’s crowdfunding actions “deeply unsettling” and “crass” coming from such a prominent political figure.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the First Division Association, comments that Salmond’s response to the ongoing investigation is “nasty, vindictive and deliberate”, and will have “broader consequences”. He accuses the former First Minister of undermining Leslie Evans, permanent secretary of the Scottish government, and her duty to follow official procedures.
Nicola Sturgeon, current First Minister and leader of the SNP, states that these allegations “could not be ignored or swept under the carpet”. Regardless, Sturgeon claims she is deeply saddened by the events, stating recent times “have been incredibly difficult for the party”.
She describes Salmond as her “friend and mentor for almost 30 years”.
Salmond ultimately states that “innocent until proven guilty is central to our concept of justice”. Is Alex Salmond turning against the government he used to run to distract from the allegations made against him, or is he challenging what he deems unjust legal procedures? His actions have cultivated a divisive debate that is currently coursing through Scottish politics and is having a knock-on effect on the movement for Scottish independence.
Salmond makes it clear that he will “continue to serve the independence movement” in whatever way he can during the course of the investigation, and that he “truly [loves] the SNP and the wider independence movement in Scotland”. The former MSP has announced that once he has cleared his name he will reapply to be a member of the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon emphasises that “truth and justice prevail”, and the investigation must ensure that “all parties concerned” are treated fairly. She concludes that “we must absolutely make sure we don’t make it harder for or discourage women from coming forward in the future”.