‘Who is Mr Salmond an­gry at? Al­most ev­ery­one, it seems’

The Herald - - NEWS - Mark Smith

AT last, some­thing we can all agree on: Ni­cola Stur­geon has done the right thing by re­fer­ring her­self to a stan­dards panel over her ac­tions dur­ing the Alex Salmond in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but what do the last few days tell us about the two be­he­moths of na­tion­al­ism? Prob­a­bly that some things haven’t changed – in a world of an­gry men, Mr Salmond is still the an­gri­est – and that some things have: in a world of in­com­pe­tent politi­cians, Ni­cola Stur­geon used to feel like the most com­pe­tent. But not any­more. The SNP has now failed the two great tests of lead­er­ship. It is a sur­pris­ing sit­u­a­tion with un­cer­tain con­se­quences.

The first test – keep­ing calm – is ac­tu­ally one that the SNP failed a long time ago, thanks mostly to Alex Salmond. Mr Salmond has al­ways been of the an­gry al­pha-male per­sua­sion; he is a ket­tle whose lid is con­stantly rat­tling, but even by his stan­dards, the dark-eyed per­for­mance out­side the Court of

Ses­sion last week was ex­tra­or­di­nary. Why was he an­gry? Be­cause he’s been treated badly. Who’s he an­gry at? Al­most ev­ery­one, it seems, ex­cept Ni­cola Stur­geon (a pub­lic fic­tion that can­not last). And where’s it go­ing to lead? Nowhere good.

The thing is, pro­vided the al­le­ga­tions against him are false, Alex Salmond de­serves sym­pa­thy. First, be­cause the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment ig­nored the prin­ci­ples of nat­u­ral jus­tice by re­fus­ing to give him the de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions and who was mak­ing them. And sec­ond, be­cause the Gov­ern­ment broke its own pro­ce­dural rules. Mr Salmond is a vic­tim of a breach of prin­ci­ple and pro­ce­dure. No won­der he’s fum­ing.

How­ever, Mr Salmond’s anger is part of a big­ger prob­lem for the SNP. The for­mer first min­is­ter is right to be an­gry, but in re­cent years the lead­ers of in­de­pen­dence, of­fi­cial and un­of­fi­cial, ap­pear to have been in a con­stant state of fury. What do we see when we look at na­tion­al­ism? An­gry mouths and jab­bing fin­gers (most of them be­long­ing to mid­dle-aged, white, straight men like Mr Salmond). It’s ex­tremely off-putting (es­pe­cially for peo­ple who are not mid­dle-aged, white, straight men) and helps ex­plain why the SNP did not win the ref­er­en­dum and have largely stalled now. The rest of the SNP also seems to have taken their lead from the Mr An­grys, even Ni­cola Stur­geon.

Then there’s that other unattrac­tive Salmond qual­ity – the naked need for the lime­light – which means we can­not rule out a po­lit­i­cal come­back. At the mo­ment, the for­mer first min­is­ter has to put up with stand­ing in the darker edges of the spot­light – a street out­side a court­room or the beer tent where he talked about the al­le­ga­tions last Au­gust.

How­ever, if, in time, the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion clears Mr Salmond and he’s read­mit­ted to the party, there’s talk of him go­ing for the Holy­rood seats of Aberdeen­shire East or Aberdeen Don­side. And re­mem­ber: al­though Joanna Cherry was the only MP to

“like” that tweet call­ing for Mr Salmond to lead the SNP again, there are thou­sands more in the party who like the idea. Many of his sup­port­ers think he could do bet­ter than his suc­ces­sor.

As for her po­si­tion in all of this,

Ni­cola Stur­geon could not have made it more ob­vi­ous what re­la­tions are like with her old men­tor when she spoke about the court case last week. She was given a chance to apol­o­gise di­rectly to Mr Salmond. She didn’t take it. Not only that, she said her par­tic­u­lar re­gret was for the women who brought the com­plaints. She also chose to say the court’s rul­ing had no im­pli­ca­tion one way or the other on the sub­stance of the com­plaints. And she hasn’t spo­ken to Mr Salmond in months. Their close­ness, even when they were in of­fice to­gether, is of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated, but these guys used to be friends and sym­pa­this­ers.

And what of Stur­geon and the sec­ond great test of lead­er­ship: com­pe­tence? Are we still sure that the First Min­is­ter passes that one? Partly, it has to come down to the abil­ity to man­age tax­pay­ers’ money and it’s es­ti­mated the Salmond case could cost the pub­lic purse half a mil­lion pounds.

On the same sub­ject, we also know the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment breached its own guide­lines by ap­point­ing an in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer who had prior in­volve­ment in the case. And while the de­ci­sion by Ms Stur­geon at the week­end to re­fer her­self to the stan­dards panel over her meet­ings and phone calls with Mr Salmond may be the right one, is it more con­trol­ling than com­pe­tent? It means the in­quiry will be pri­vate and the First Min­is­ter can refuse to an­swer any more ques­tions un­til there’s a rul­ing.

It won’t end the pres­sure for some­thing more pub­lic though; there’s also a the­ory, or hope, among union­ists that the af­fair could lead to the first min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion or at least dam­age the po­lit­i­cal prospects of the SNP. But hang on a minute. As Alex Salmond was fum­ing out­side the Court of Ses­sion and Ni­cola Stur­geon was re­fer­ring her­self to the stan­dards panel, new opin­ion polls were emerg­ing that show some­thing in­ter­est­ing: sup­port for the SNP ap­pears to be hold­ing steady.

Brexit may be a fac­tor in this of course, but the re­silience in the polls is prob­a­bly be­cause – de­spite fail­ing the two great tests of lead­er­ship – the SNP still passes the first test of na­tion­al­ism, which is that noth­ing mat­ters ex­cept in­de­pen­dence. This is why so many SNP sup­port­ers ap­pear un­both­ered by the Salmond af­fair or dis­miss it as a me­dia or union­ist plot. “Union­ists are us­ing the Salmond in­ves­ti­ga­tion to at­tack the FM,” said one. “All this non­sense will not al­ter my vote,” said an­other.

What this means in the longer term is that, even if the cri­sis con­tin­ues to grow, there’s a bul­wark against sup­port for the SNP drop­ping too far: the sup­port­ers’ faith in, or ob­ses­sion with, in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, for ev­ery­one else in the more rea­son­able mid­dle, the creep­ing trends of the last few months – the an­gry men, the ques­tions over com­pe­tence, and the ap­par­ent ob­ses­sion with in­de­pen­dence – may mean some­thing more dis­turb­ing for the SNP. Yes, there’s prob­a­bly a level below which their sup­port is un­likely to fall, but the cause of in­de­pen­dence needs more than that. Na­tion­al­ism needs a surge, not stag­na­tion.

Who is Mr Salmond an­gry at? Al­most ev­ery­one, it seems, ex­cept Ni­cola Stur­geon (a pub­lic fic­tion that can­not last)

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