CARRY ON CALEDONIA

SNP - CopyYou can’t keep a bad man down, eh? I should imagine Nicola Sturgeon is probably thinking that today as she continues to feel the breath of her predecessor on the back of her neck, much the same as that breath quite possibly graced a few lady necks during Alex Salmond’s stint at First Minister – allegedly, of course. It’s a been a testing week for the incumbent First Minister, even though she appears – on the surface, at least – to have come through it largely unscathed. What the week’s events have done for the long-term reputation of both her and her party is in the hands of the Scottish electorate; but she remains Nicola, Queen of Scots for the time being and gives every impression of staying put till the bitter end. As a result of recent unedifying revelations, one would like to think some Scots voters have belatedly had their eyes opened to the seedy shower of crooks and charlatans that has mismanaged their nation for far too long. But there’s a certain incurable MAGA-like passion for the SNP in certain quarters of their supporters, willing to back a staggeringly draconian – not to say Orwellian – Hate Crime bill, one that effectively outlaws criticising anyone in either public or private, whilst simultaneously feeling free to demonise the English at will because it’s such a canny smokescreen when it comes to the SNP mantra.

Having been cleared of misleading the Scottish Parliament by James Hamilton QC, Nicola Sturgeon was then found guilty of doing just that in parts of her evidence by the committee investigating how the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints against Salmond. The latter’s conclusions were something of a minor miracle considering the committee was 5-4 pro-Sturgeon; but the committee found her administration’s handling of the Salmond complaints ‘seriously flawed’ and the First Minister’s dubious grasp of the truth was enough to prompt a motion of no confidence in her leadership by MSPs. She survived this just as she survived the publication of the ‘independent’ report into her conduct, published the day before the committee’s findings, though that was hardly earth-shattering. James Hamilton QC – coincidentally, her legal advisor on the ministerial code since 2015 – unsurprisingly found Wee Ms Krankie not guilty.

On paper, Sturgeon’s survival could portray her grip on power as being so strong it has remained intact despite the most serious challenge to it so far. Soviet Scotland looks like a corrupt one-party state more than ever after this week, and even when veteran Tory MP David Davis recently used Parliamentary Privilege in Westminster to heap further pressure on the nonexistent morality of the Edinburgh Politburo – a privilege not available at Holyrood – it was a case of ‘Move on, nothing to see here’ from the SNP. A weak Labour Opposition distracted by the irrelevant triviality of metropolitan Identity Politics and an increasingly authoritarian Conservative Government with an appetite for imposing and prolonging restrictions on civil liberties undoubtedly plays into SNP hands; but the SNP is effectively a combination of the two dominant parties south of the border whilst dishonestly selling itself as an alternative to the gruesome twosome it has cherry-picked the worst aspects of to strengthen the vice it holds the collective Scottish knackers in.

But whilst Nicola Sturgeon is momentarily secure on the throne, the man who would be king is refusing to allow her reign to progress smoothly. Just as he stood for a Scottish seat in Westminster following his post-Independence Referendum resignation as First Minister, Alex Salmond getting knocked down is followed by him getting back up again; the ex-FM is determined to return to frontline politics by taking the route previously traversed by the likes of George Galloway and Nigel Farage by setting up his own political party. Four candidates will be representing ‘Alba’ in May’s Holyrood elections. Interesting choice of name for Salmond’s vanity project, for Alba is the Gaelic word for Scotland. How fittingly romantic and characteristic of the man’s vision; his speech launching the party was redolent in such clichés – ‘Today Alba is hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill.’ Cue sweeping strings as Salmond’s Saltire-clutching silhouette stands atop Ben Nevis. Oh, do me a bloody favour.

Actually, choosing the name of Alba to stir misguided patriotic passions in the heart of every Scotsman reminds me of BBC Alba, the minority Gaelic TV channel funded by the nationwide licence-fee payer. It’s worth remembering, of the 5.2 million Scots actually residing in Scotland, barely 55,000 (i.e. 1%) speak Gaelic – and those Gaelic-speakers also speak English; there’s nobody left in Scotland today for whom Gaelic is their only language. Promoting it as an authentic native tongue is a form of luxury ethnicity that perfectly fits in with Alex Salmond’s appropriation of meaningless symbolism that conveniently obscures the reality of an ‘Independent’ Scotland subservient to a Union far less beneficial to the Scottish people than the one that has stood it in good stead for 300 years. If there is any glimmer of hope in this miserable circus, it’s the fact that the founding of the Alba Party raises the prospect of the SNP vote being split for the first time; if anything can weaken the SNP hegemony in Holyrood, perhaps this is it. Anyway, I digress…

I thought I’d point out that effectively renting a platform such as this has its pluses and minuses. Being the good guy I am, I resist playing the Peter Butterworth ‘Carry on Camping’ character at the gate, charging campers ‘a parnd’ for every amenity before they even set foot on the site. Although I don’t see any ads here myself, I’m told visitors are denied the perks of the creator; to get rid of ads altogether would apparently require my demanding ‘a parnd’, so it’s either put up or pay up; it seems like a small sacrifice. However, being the creator doesn’t mean I’m the freeholder; I’m essentially a tenant and was reminded of this fact when abruptly waking up in an online apartment that has been redecorated during the night. I remember reading one of the unnerving ‘gags’ Charles Manson and his gang engaged in before opting for slaughtering innocent people in their own homes was to stage nocturnal raids on occupied properties and simply move the living room furniture around without stealing a thing; the residents would therefore come downstairs the next morning and be instantly unsettled by the unforeseen alterations to their surroundings.

Mercifully, what’s happened here is not quite the same, though it’s still a pain in the arse to see the whole backstage design of the Telegram has been changed without my permission. It’s always strange how any upgrade undertaken without consultation is never as satisfactory as what preceded it. Yes, change always comes as something that takes getting used to, but it’s nice to have the option to choose change rather than having it thrust upon you with no say in the matter. If anything on here therefore appears different in style or presentation, bear in mind it’s nothing to do with me. I’ve spent the last couple of days doing my best to keep everything familiar. It’s frustrating that it now takes twice as long to achieve the complementary marriage of image and text at the top of the article that could previously be achieved in the blink of a mouse click; but this is the best I could manage. Ah, anonymous others making decisions on behalf of the individual and removing all autonomy in the process – at least this is a dilemma to which many have become accustomed of late.

© The Editor

OCH AYE AM THE LAW

In the end, even the architect can be unceremoniously ejected from the building he designed. Following his resignation as manager of Liverpool FC in 1974, the legendary Bill Shankly’s fifteen years at Anfield weren’t enough to prevent him being politely asked to stay away from the club’s training ground when he had a habit of turning up unannounced and interfering in the running of the team by his successor (and former No.2) Bob Paisley. It was a sad postscript to a glittering career, but was at least handled with a degree of delicacy by the club. If I didn’t think they’d probably consider the comparison flattering, I’d more likely be talking of Trotsky and Stalin rather than Shankly and Paisley when turning the spotlight on the power struggle between Scotland’s two principal politicians of the past 20 years, Master Salmond and Madam Sturgeon. The former First Minister – and a man who did arguably more than any other single individual to further the cause of self-determination north of the border – may have avoided an ice-pick to the skull, but there are far more effective means of assassination in the age of cancel culture, where a smear or allegation are enough to leave a reputation in tatters.

Ever since walking away from the SNP leadership following the failure of the independence campaign in 2014, Alex Salmond has been an unwelcome spectre shadowing the increasingly authoritarian progress of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s dictator-in-chief following her unopposed accession to the post of First Minister. Whilst the pandemic has presented Sturgeon with an opportunity to exercise her totalitarian leanings on a scale far greater than even she could have imagined in her wildest Braveheart fantasies, the persistent presence of her predecessor appears to be something she views as an encumbrance in the same way David Steel was lumbered with the lingering shadow of Jeremy Thorpe when he took over the Liberal Party in 1976. Salmond’s undignified 2018 resignation from the SNP following allegations of sexual misconduct dating from five years earlier was an unsavoury issue that provoked an investigation by the Scottish Government, albeit one Salmond himself challenged by raising legal costs (via crowd-funding) to seek a judicial review into.

It looked as though the toxic taint of such an allegation was enough to cause Salmond to be deserted by his old comrades, and the former First Minister’s determined pursuit to clear his name – something, which at times, bore more than a passing resemblance to vengeance – eventually cost the taxpayer over £500,000 in legal expenses. Salmond was convinced his one-time second-in-command and other officials at Holyrood were engaged in a ‘malicious and concerted effort’ to bring him down; he seems to have reserved his most incensed ire for Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and – perhaps more significantly – Mr Nicola Sturgeon, with Salmond accusing him of persuading women to make the complaints of sexual harassment against him that led to the botched investigation. Salmond also claimed wee Ms Krankie breached the ministerial code more than once, accusing her of repeatedly misleading the Scottish Parliament, most importantly re the date she says she learnt of the complaints against him.

Barely two weeks after forcing the Scottish Government to admit it buggered-up the investigation, Salmond was arrested and charged with 14 offences – including rape, sexual assault, and indecent assault – and stood trial in March 2020. A fortnight later, Salmond was found not guilty on 12 of the charges, whilst one was ‘not proven’ and the other was withdrawn. What emerged from the trial was an impression of Salmond as bearing that classic trait of the ugly older man in a position of power being a bit ‘touchy-feely’ around young women, though the evidence of anything more serious was threadbare. The fact that many of the allegations came from women drawn from the SNP inner circle was something Salmond pointed to as proof of a conspiracy against him that had descended into a witch-hunt. As soon as he walked away from the court, he indicated he wasn’t prepared to go quietly. Sensing this wasn’t to be the end of the affair, a committee of MSPs was set up to examine the way the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints of sexual misconduct, though a committee comprising nine Members of the Scottish Parliament in which four belonged to the SNP and one to the Scottish Greens (regarded as being in an unofficial coalition with the SNP) hardly seemed like a balanced panel, further fuelling Salmond’s paranoia.

Salmond’s claims against Sturgeon have now reclaimed the headlines – though, oddly, not necessarily those of the Scottish MSM – following the intervention of the Crown Office in the publication of a written submission Salmond made to the inquiry; sudden redactions were made in the published account, removing details concerning the allegations about his successor misleading the Scottish Parliament. A furious Salmond retaliated by pulling out of a scheduled appearance before the committee on Wednesday; it has now been reported he will attend on Friday. Salmond’s censored submission had already been published unexpurgated on the Scottish Parliament’s website before the Crown Office decided to take matters into its own hands, which only continues to make it seem as though the SNP has something to hide. Sturgeon’s husband has twice been accused of perjury following his appearances before the committee, but calls by Scottish Tories to prosecute Peter Murrell would rest with the Lord Advocate, appointed by the First Minister herself and a member of her team to boot. Can’t really see that happening, can you?

Reports indicate that if the redacted passages were to remain intact in the public arena, they wouldn’t be allowed as evidence come the final conclusions of the inquiry; the Scottish Parliament has also given the thumbs-up to the censorship on the part of the Crown Office, which means the evidence against Sturgeon that Salmond presented to the committee has effectively been deleted by Sturgeon and her team. One wonders if the First Minister actually believes she’s Judge Dredd now – i.e. ‘I am the Law’. All this whole unedifying episode appears to have done is merely give additional weight to Salmond’s claims that the SNP, and particularly Mr and Mrs Sturgeon (or should that be Marcos?), are abusing their powers in order to suppress any opposition to their regime. More and more it is looking like Sturgeon has used every weapon in her arsenal to silence her predecessor, but as soon as he re-emerged from court a free man she must have known the failure of the modern world’s default method of destroying a public figure would mean even dirtier tricks were required.

It’s a difficult topic to approach objectively, this one. I don’t support Scottish independence, and whilst I am no fan of Nicola Sturgeon, I am also no fan of Alex Salmond. That said, as soon as Salmond was arrested and the charges against him were splashed across the media, I instinctively felt something underhand was at play; it just seemed too convenient a scenario for his successor as First Minister. The moment he was cleared of the charges, I figured Scotland’s descent into banana republic territory would gather pace – and it has. The SNP’s handling of the pandemic has hardly been exemplary, but by keeping the focus on England’s failings and devoting so much energy to portraying their nearest-neighbours as ‘Tory Scum’ – remember those goons standing on the border expressing sentiments that would be regarded anywhere else as pseudo-MAGA extremism? – Sturgeon and her cabal have managed to prevent any sustained study of their own dealings – until now, perhaps. The ghost of Scotland’s past is haunting the First Minister, but this is not the kind of patriotic phantom Nicola Sturgeon is fond of evoking.

© The Editor