Sunday 23 August 2020

A fish rots from the head down


I had delayed watching Kirsty Wark’s documentary about Alex Salmond because I had heard people say that it was disappointing. It is true that there were no new revelations for those of us who had followed the trial reasonably closely, but still I came away with certain impressions.

If Alex Salmond had lived anywhere other than Scotland he would have been convicted and jailed. It took far less evidence from far fewer women to convict both Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Elphicke. If ten educated articulate women are not enough to convict Salmond, how many would be enough? This all makes Scotland look backward as if we still used thumb screws and dooked women in the burn to extract confessions.

Either there was a conspiracy against Salmond, or he was guilty. Clearly certain Salmond allies think that he was framed. But the only evidence for this is that some of Salmond’s alleged victims talked to each other. Why shouldn’t they talk to each other? Women talking to each other and gaining support from each other is part of the process by which we summon up the courage to confront rapists and people who commit sexual assault. One lone woman who has been groped might not dare to go to trial. It would be her word against someone powerful, but if she discovers that there are lots of others who have been groped, she might decide there is a chance to convict. This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s reasonable behaviour.

It may be that there is evidence of conspiracy within the SNP to bring Salmond down, but I am unaware of any of it being made public. Salmond was finished anyway after 2017 when he lost his seat. Why risk a conspiracy to bring him down, which if discovered could bring the whole SNP house down? Those who allege conspiracy, need to provide some evidence.

Sixty-seven-year-old Harvey Weinstein was convicted in March of first-degree sexual assault in 2006 and third degree rape in 2013. But these crimes took place within a context of consensual sex. Weinstein had a casting couch. Young women actresses knew that if they had sex with Weinstein there was a good chance that he would give them parts and success. This was sleazy, but legal. But it was this context that led Weinstein to grab without asking and to assume consent when it had not been given. He was used to getting his way.

Sixty-five-year-old Alex Salmond admitted to having consensual sex with one of the women witnesses, she denied it.  We are left to wonder if there was a pattern of behaviour in Bute House. How many other women would Salmond admit to having consensual sex with if the alternative was admitting to something worse?

Salmond admitted to drunkenly rolling around on a bed with a woman. Did this happen often or just once? It would have been useful if the documentary had gone further in its analysis of what was typical behaviour by Salmond when he was First Minister. Did he sleep with lots of young women? If he did then the allegations of the women witnesses would make more sense. Salmond might have thought that he was just behaving as usual as he had dozens of times before. He would have been used to having his way. He did not need to ask.

We lack the context of what Bute House was like when Salmond lived there. Was it some sort of harem where he had the pick of the servants only some of whom were reluctant to play along? Or did he live like a monk. He occasionally lapsed but kept saying to himself oh lord make me chaste but not yet. We lack the context because no one has been completely honest about what went on behind the scenes in Scotland in 2013 and 2014.

I had the impression that everyone in the documentary knew everyone else and had done so for decades. They were all politically on the Left, supporters of devolution and frequently supporters of independence. I don’t know the names of any of the women witnesses, but Kirsty Wark does and so did everyone else. But why didn’t we hear anything about Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour in 2013 or 2014? Why were there no newspaper stories or television documentaries then when it might have made a difference to the referendum result.  Are we seriously to believe that Kirsty Wark heard no rumours?

The whole documentary is a bit like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. In 2020 it matters little politically what Salmond did or did not do. We will never know now for sure. It is impossible to prove conclusively what two people did together in private when they disagree. Ten women might be lying. Even one hundred might be lying. After all the word of one Salmond counts for more than any number of women in our progressive Scotland even when they describe sliding down the wall in despair. But there is a far deeper issue.

The only issue of any political importance is what Nicola Sturgeon knew.

There were a couple of snippets which didn’t touch her at all. She dismissed talk of conspiracy. But even this isn’t the issue. Are we to believe that throughout the time when ten women alleged Salmond was committing crimes that Sturgeon knew nothing whatsoever about it?

This is to suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had no idea that the Prime Minister was sexually assaulting and raping young women even though he visited 10 Downing Street every day and talked to these women daily. If this were in England, not only would the press have told the tale as soon as the first rumour came to light, the Prime Minister would have been jailed and the Chancellor sacked and disgraced for turning a blind eye.

But in Scotland we have senior civil servant Leslie Evans holding up her hands, looking around and signally to SNP MSP and chairman of the inquiry Linda Fabiani asking if she is comfortable with her answers. What sort of witness gets coached by the judge through her testimony. It makes me wonder if it is even possible to have a fair trial and an impartial inquiry in Scotland.  A nod and a wink gets you off. A nod and another wink keeps everything nicely secret. Be careful Scotland this rapidly makes us cease to be a free society.

No inquiry and no documentary will come close to Sturgeon. But Sturgeon is the equivalent of one of those actresses who praised Harvey Weinstein while knowing that he was taking advantage and sometimes assaulting young women. That Sturgeon pretends to care about feminism, women’s rights and the victims of sexual assault and rape only makes her a worse hypocrite.

Sturgeon could have exposed Salmond’s behaviour when it first became known to her. She could have saved women the indignity of going to court. She could perhaps have saved them from allegedly being assaulted in the first place. But like every other SNP member she puts the good of the party and the cause of independence above everything else. She would never have exposed Salmond in 2013 or 2014 because that would have damaged the chances of a Yes victory. It is for the same reason Sturgeon is untouchable today.