Monday 23 March 2020

How many witnesses do you need in Scotland?

I have long been of the view that it is and ought to be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what happened privately between two people some years ago. It is therefore not at all surprising that Alex Salmond has not been convicted of any crime.

We will now probably never know what did or did not happen. A significant number of women accused Mr Salmond of illegal behaviour ranging from sexual assault to attempted rape. We are left to conclude that these women were either lying, mistaken or misunderstood what happened. Mr Salmond’s defence also suggested that they may have been politically motivated in coming forward to accuse him. But what could this political motivation have been?

 The women involved appear to have been working with Mr Salmond. Were they SNP supporters? Were they at least independence supporters? It’s rather hard to imagine that they were Tories. In that case what political motivation could there have been? Were they for instance SNP supporters who did not want Scottish independence?

If the women accusers were indeed SNP supporters is the political motivation ascribed to them to do with some sort of internal SNP power struggle? Is this part of the long-term battle between independence fundamentalists and independence gradualists? Is it a battle between the two wings of the party one led by Mr Salmond the other led by Ms Sturgeon? If so, we really need some clarity on this matter. The First Minister must tell us what she knows about this struggle.

If on the other hand there is no plausible political motivation for the women to make charges against Mr Salmond, we must wonder why they did so.

We know that in charges of sexual assault, attempted rape and rape itself there can be misunderstandings between the people involved and differing opinions. There would be no need for trials at all if all such behaviour was clear cut and unambiguous. Years after the event it may be difficult to remember all the details. Different interpretations may be made by different people.

But are we supposed to believe that nothing whatsoever happened to these women witnesses who accused Mr Salmond? Are we supposed to think that they simply made it all up? But why? Did they dislike him as a boss? Were they fired for no good reason? What can account for their statements?

It may simply be that given the witness statements and the statements of the defence the jury simply did not know beyond a reasonable doubt what happened. Neither for that matter do any of us.

But here is something that we ought to reflect on. There was no physical evidence that Alex Salmond did anything wrong. There were only witness statements. Likewise, in the case against Harvey Weinstein there were only witness statements. The crimes he was convicted of also happened in the past in 2013 and 2006. He too was acquitted of most of the crimes he was accused of but nevertheless is likely to die in jail.

There is always going to be a problem in any jury trial when the only evidence available is witness testimony. Who do you believe? In Weinstein’s case it is clear that the jury considered that there was enough witness testimony to build up a convincing case that Weinstein showed a pattern of behaviour. Clearly the more women who testify that they have been raped, or sexually assaulted the more likely it is that they are telling the truth.

In essence Weinstein was convicted because the jury believed two witnesses. One said that he sexually assaulted her in 2006 and the other that he committed third degree rape in 2013. So, on the basis of two witnesses Weinstein went to jail for 23 years. By contrast despite the testimony of ten witnesses Salmond went free.

We are left to conclude that Mr Salmond was lucky not to have been born in the United States and he was very lucky indeed not to have had a political campaign (#Metoo) directed against him.

I cannot say how I would have voted if I had been on the jury. I too may have dismissed the case against Mr Salmond, but then I might have dismissed the case against Mr Weinstein.

We have no way of knowing for sure what happened in case, but unless we find out what possible motive there could have been for the witnesses against Mr Salmond deciding to endure a jury trial, we must find the whole case confusing.

Here are the questions that need to be answered:

Did Mr Salmond have a reputation for touching women inappropriately?

Were women advised not to work with Mr Salmond on their own?

When did Nicola Sturgeon first hear about women being unhappy about Mr Salmond’s behaviour, if indeed there were such women?

We live in a society where we must accept that courts are fair and that when they say that someone is innocent their reputation is untarnished.

But it is not unreasonable to compare and contrast the Alex Salmond case with other cases. How many women witnesses does it take to convict an Alex Salmond in a Scottish court? If there had been fifteen would it have been enough? What if there had been a hundred? Still not enough?