BY EFFIE DEANS
There were two moments when the SNP might have won independence. Alex Salmond had a chance in 2014 and Nicola Sturgeon had a chance in 2016. On both occasions Scotland might have ended up with a leader who would later be questioned on his or her honesty.
The reason that the Scottish Government is minded to remove jury trials from rape cases and to remove the verdict of not proven too is because it thinks that too many men are assisted by juries and perhaps also by the not proven verdict.
But there is a fundamental reason why convictions for rape and sexual assault are lower than for murder, burglary, fraud, and other crimes. While the evidence for murder is most frequently objective, a dead body, forensic evidence or witnesses, there is often in rape and sexual assault cases no objective evidence at all.
The crimes that Alex Salmond was accused of took place if they took place at all years earlier. The women involved did not complain to the police at the time (we may assume). The alleged crimes took place in private. There were no witnesses other than Salmond and the person who accused him. This is a wholly different sort of evidence to that of the typical murder.
What would be the consequence of replacing a jury with a judge. Well, the judge might be the sort of activist who thinks that rape and sexual assault convictions are too low. When faced with one woman witness accusing a man of rape the judge might (other things being equal) be inclined to believe the woman rather than the man in order to increase the conviction rate. Men could therefore expect to be convicted of rape or sexual assault even if there were no other evidence apart from the witness testimony of the accuser, unless that testimony was somehow unconvincing.
Salmond wasn’t accused by just one woman. He was accused by nine and originally ten. What then would have been the consequence if there had been a judge at his trial rather than a jury?
We don’t know what happened in Bute House when Salmond was First Minister. It is hard to believe that nothing happened. But it is also possible to believe that it was just that Salmond was acquitted. But assuming that Salmond and others who were acquitted from rape and sexual assault cases were justly acquitted, then the consequence of appointing a judge intent on convicting more people charged with sexual offences, would be to convict more innocent men. Is that what justice means in SNP Scotland?
But we can be absolutely sure of two things. If Alex Salmond has become leader of an independent Scotland by winning the referendum in 2014, he would never have been investigated, let alone charged with any offence. The reason there were not even rumours of misbehaviour in Bute House was because of SNP secrecy. The reason why there was an investigation was because we had a new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. We still don’t know what she knew about Salmond’s behaviour. We don’t know whether she was involved in gathering the witnesses, or what indeed what if anything she did behind the scenes while her predecessor went to trial.
So, if Salmond had won in 2014, we would have had someone who later went to trial as our leader. If Sturgeon had obtained independence in 2016, we would never have found out about the mobile home, the pots and pans, the luxury pens, the lack of auditors or the fridge.
The moment of maximum opportunity for Sturgeon was just after the Brexit referendum. If she was going to push a unilateral strategy of obtaining independence that was the moment to do it. Countries do not have to obtain independence by means of a legal referendum, few indeed do so. If Sturgeon had orchestrated a vote for independence in order to remain in the EU in the Scottish Parliament, or if she had manufactured some sort of election to the Scottish Parliament as a plebiscite on remaining in the EU, there is every chance she would have won. With momentum it would have mattered very little if such a vote was illegal.
Of course, there would have been dangers. The SNP’s lack of a plan of how to deal with the familiar issues of borders, currency and requiring a subsidy from London, would have been exposed. Spain and other countries concerned about secession might have objected. But in the febrile mood of the summer of 2016 if Sturgeon had reached out to the EU and perhaps even Obama then she might have gained support.
The likely end point of this would have been that Brexit would never have happened. Faced with rebellion in Scotland and perhaps also Northern Ireland, the UK would have backed down on leaving the EU solving many of the SNP’s problems. The break up of the UK could have been like the break up of Czechoslovakia.
Sturgeon was running a government where she could tell colleagues to hand over their mobile phones and have their emails investigated. She could tell colleagues to essentially shut up about that, don’t investigate, don’t ask. She was running a party, where official roles, with official duties as defined by the Electoral Commission, were essentially fronts for the real people who were exercising the role. This is why the SNP could end up owning a campervan, while the person who ought to have paid for it didn’t know he was paying for it.
The SNP’s credibility and trust has been destroyed. We can reflect on 2014 and 2016 as times when we might have ended up with an essentially criminal organisation ruling over us.
We have already had one former First Minister investigated by the police. We don’t yet know if we will have another. But no reasonable Scot can trust the SNP as it now is. The danger of voting for the SNP and with it Scottish independence is not so much that a third First Minister would be investigated by the police, but that he would be a criminal and we would know nothing about it, because the police would not dare investigate.
The Excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.