Alex Salmond is a distraction
The former Scottish National Party leader is in trouble.
As the Brexit negotiations reach their final stages, and with a no deal exit a real possibility, the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon, will be considering a new referendum on independence. Meanwhile a scandal implicating Alex Salmond, former party leader, could be a problem. Nevertheless, the Scottish independence debate is back on the table.
N icola Sturgeon came bearing good news. Support for independence was edging up, declared Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, to applause from her MSPs gathered in Holyrood, [early in September]. But their joy was constrained. The reason? Alex Salmond, the party’s previous leader, who faces allegations of sexual misconduct during his time as first minister in 2007-14.
2. Mr Salmond denies the allegations and rejects “any suggestion of criminality”. The case has dominated Scottish politics since the accusations emerged in late August. Mr Salmond quickly jumped from the party to cut off demands that he be pushed. He has also launched legal proceedings against the Scottish government over its handling of the probe.
3. Ms Sturgeon was Mr Salmond’s protégée and their relationship one of few examples of a successful political friendship. Now, for the first time, there is a rift between the two. Talk of a civil war within the SNP is overblown, insist party insiders. Mr Salmond holds no office. While still popular among older members, he has less pull over the swathes of youngsters who flocked to the party after the failed independence vote in 2014. But Mr Salmond is more than an embarrassing uncle who can be ignored. For decades, he personified the push for independence.
REVIVAL OF THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
4. The allegations against him come just as Scotland’s flagging independence movement shows signs of revival. SNP membership now outstrips the Conservative Party’s across the whole of Britain. Brexit, which 62% of Scots voted against, is being bungled, stoking demands for freedom from Westminster. A poll in September found that after Brexit, 47% of Scots would back independence, compared with 43% who would vote to stay in the union.
5. Yet the pitch to break away from Britain has become trickier, too. About a third of SNP voters backed Leave in the Brexit referendum. And the economic case has weakened. In May a report commissioned by the Scottish government admitted that spending would have to come down as a proportion of GDP if Scotland went it alone. Ms Sturgeon’s job is made no easier by the renewed prominence of Mr Salmond.
Alex Salmond has been accused of sexual misconduct.