BY EFFIE DEANS
The latest developments in the Alex Salmond Scandal remind me of the famous David Low cartoon Rendezvous from 1939. Just like then it is tempting to hope that both sides lose. Just like then it is impossible to trust what either side says.
On the one side we have Nicola Sturgeon, her husband Peter Murrell and probably still the majority of SNP MPs, MSPs and supporters. This story still hasn’t really gone mainstream. These are the SNP gradualists. Hoping for an independence referendum but unwilling to actually do anything illegal or dubious to achieve independence. This side thinks that Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity is the SNP’s best asset.
On the other side, we have Alex Salmond, various SNP MPs and MSPs who ally with him plus some well-known bloggers such as Wings over Scotland, Craig Murray and Robin McAlpine. This is the fundamentalist side of Scottish nationalism, willing to do almost anything to achieve the goal.
I gave up reading Wings and Co. years ago. Much of what was written on the various Scottish nationalist websites struck me as mere propaganda. I remember Wings produced The Wee Blue Book, which supposedly made an economic case for Scottish independence. But no economist could have taken it seriously, although it was quite clever in providing arguments for the gullible.
So too the less moderate side of Scottish nationalism has produced various weird and wonderful conspiracy theories including secret oil fields hidden by the British Government. There have been suggestions that Yes did not really lose the referendum in 2014, that SNP voters should bring their own pen to polling stations to stop their votes being rubbed out and all sorts of other paranoia about Westminster, Unionists and English people in general.
For a long time, I simply dismissed these people as cranks. This is one reason why it is quite hard to take seriously some of the claims that are being published on these websites. In essence we are being told that there was a conspiracy against Alex Salmond to put him in jail and that subsequent to this there has been a massive cover-up going right to the top of the Scottish Government.
The problem is not so much with the claims as who is making them.
The latest revelation involves the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. I don’t wish to say anything nasty about Craig Murray, but he is unlike any other former British Ambassador I have ever come across.
He was born and raised in England, went to university in Dundee, got involved in Liberal Democratic politics, but ended up being removed from his post in Uzbekistan for reasons that appear rather scandalous. Perhaps for this reason he turned on Britain by campaigning for Scottish independence in 2014.
I have always found Mr Murray to be rather peculiar and best ignored. I remember vaguely his objecting to not being able to get into the Alex Salmond trial. But somehow, he eventually was allowed in for a couple of days. The people who let him in might have regretted the decision, because he ended up being charged with contempt of court. “Prosecutors claim some of his comments breached strict legal guidelines about what could be reported during the trial.”
We are still waiting for the outcome of this case.
But Mr Murray was not finished with the Alex Salmond scandal. One of his recent articles provides documents which suggest that Peter Murrell committed perjury in his evidence to the Alex Salmond Inquiry and that the Lord Advocate is corrupt. This is – to say the least – quite brave when Mr Murray is due to stand trial on 27th January. I wish him well.
But what we have then is someone accused of contempt of court accusing someone else of perjury. It is for this reason that I am reminded of the cartoon.
It’s very difficult as an outsider looking into the weird and wonderful world of Scottish nationalism to know who to believe. A year or more ago if anyone had told me there was a conspiracy to put Alex Salmond in jail, I would have dismissed it in the same way as I dismissed the secret oil fields.
But ever since the trial we have been faced with two apparently incompatible facts. 1. Alex Salmond was innocent. 2. Nine women testified that he had sexually assaulted them. How could both statements be true? How many women witnesses do you need in Scotland? It was necessary to conclude that there just was not enough evidence for a conviction. But nine witnesses telling a similar story about a pattern of behaviour would be compelling unless the jury didn’t trust all nine of them for a reason. One reason might be if the jury suspected a conspiracy against Mr Salmond.
Gradually as this year has passed, we have discovered various new revelations, which suggest that if the jury didn’t believe the witnesses against Mr Salmond, they were right not to do so. If Sturgeon and the Scottish Government have nothing to hide, why have they been so unhelpful to the Inquiry? Why has it been necessary to pay for coaching for the Inquiry witnesses and why have those witnesses allegedly colluded with each other? This behaviour casts doubt also on the trial witnesses.
Now we have a new revelation that suggests not only that Mr Murrell was not telling the truth to the Inquiry about documents which he claimed did not exist. The Lord Advocate appears to agree that they exist because he describes them as private communications. Something that does not exist cannot logically be private. Worse these documents that appear to exist appear also to show that there may well have been a high-level conspiracy against Mr Salmond.
It is an odd experience, but I have come to admire what Mr Murray, Mr McAlpine, Wings and others are trying to do. I don’t know what happened in Bute House between Mr Salmond and various women, but I am beginning to believe that there was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. If at some point, we discover that this is true we will owe Mr Murray and the others a debt of gratitude. This goes beyond political difference. It is a matter of morality and justice.
But it is most peculiar that people I dismissed as cranks and conspiracy theorists should discover and expose a genuine conspiracy. Could there really be secret oil fields? Nothing would surprise me now, not even if Nicola Sturgeon announced at her next briefing that she was really called Nicholas and was in a same sex relationship with her husband who was really called Petra.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.