Sunday 10 January 2021

Salmond versus Sturgeon


My initial reaction to Alex Salmond’s revelations was to be underwhelmed. The rather long, boring legalistic text that he intends to submit to the Inquiry has nothing juicy. We don’t find out that Nicola Sturgeon knew about Alex Salmond’s behaviour in 2014. We don’t find out that she has been leading a rather scandalous double life. We don’t find out that she has shot someone’s dog.

It is hard to get too worked up about whether she had a meeting with Salmond on March 29th, 2018 but forgot about it and thought instead that her first meeting with him about this issue was on April 2nd.  The distinction between SNP Party business and Scottish Government business is important, but it is inevitable that politicians mix them up sometimes. Sturgeon does it all the time. She even conflates Scotland with the SNP.

Who told what to whom and when and whether it was minuted by the Civil Service is vital, but it would not make the News of the World even if such a paper still existed.

We already know that the Scottish Government made a mess of its investigation of Salmond, because it had to pay him £512,250, but while wasting public money is important the amount involved is the cost of a large house in Aberdeen and is trivial in the context of the Scottish Government’s budget.  

But there is one thing that is not underwhelming about Salmond’s revelations. The most striking thing is that he clearly intends her to resign not merely as First Minister, but also as SNP leader. The reason for this is that his text forms a detailed legal attempt to prove that Sturgeon broke the Ministerial Code. If this can be proved, then Sturgeon would be expected to resign.

There are different sorts of political resignation. Sometimes a minister resigns just because his department has made some horrible error. It need not be the case that the minister even knew about it, but we expect them to take responsibility. Often after a few months such a minister returns. This sort of resignation excites the political press, but no one else.

If it can be shown that Sturgeon mislead Parliament or the Inquiry, then she would be expected to resign. This is what Salmond is trying to achieve. But it would hardly be a Profumo affair. It would not be the sort of scandal that is remembered decades after. Politician lied. Well don’t they all.

If this is all that Salmond has, then the likelihood is that Sturgeon will survive. Resignations are as much a matter of politics as anything else. Until the Scottish public begins to demand Sturgeon’s resignation, then she will be able to survive embarrassing revelations about misleading Parliament, because she will turn it into a he said she said argument. Salmond is going to need proof and it become completely clear without doubt that Sturgeon lied before anything drastic happens. But Sturgeon will have a counter argument and counter witnesses. So, my guess is that Salmond will have to provide more to bring her down.

But this is where it gets interesting. Why does he want to bring her down? Salmond’s motive must partly be revenge. He clearly blames Sturgeon for the fact that he ended up in court and would have gone to prison if convicted.  But why should a certain section of Scottish nationalist opinion both support and cooperate with Salmond? Some no doubt sympathise with their former leader, but there is also emerging a clear strategic divide in Scottish nationalism.

This becomes all rather familiar for anyone who recalls the internal struggle in Sinn Féin and the IRA in the final years of their campaign. The divide was between fundamentalists who wanted to continue bombing until the British were defeated and between gradualists who wished to decide the matter politically.  This civil war was very murky indeed, but the winner determined the eventual outcome.

The SNP is now dividing into Salmondist fundamentalists who talk of forcing independence if the British deny them an independence referendum and Sturgeonite gradualists who are willing to be patient at least for now.

Joanna Cherry’s talk of going down the Irish route to independence, albeit without the violence would be a viewpoint that sees the route to independence as requiring the removal of Sturgeon. However much Sturgeon talks about an independence referendum taking place soon she will do nothing illegal if it doesn’t.

It is a dangerous strategy to pretend to independence supporters continually since 2014 that the next referendum is just on the horizon. Eventually you work up the passions of your supporters just a little too much and they cannot bear another disappointment. It is because of the passions Sturgeon has enflamed that some of her supporters suggest going down the very Irish route that Sturgeon’s gradualism opposes.

But this division in the independence movement must surely mean that their prospects of winning independence can be discounted. A divided army wins no battles.

Sturgeon is by far the SNP’s best politician. Without her support for independence would decline. Salmond could not sensibly replace her. He has been tainted by ten women accusing him of sexual assault and his admission of misbehaviour even if it was not criminal. Joanna Cherry womaning the metaphorical barricades would scare off more Scots than it converted.

The argument that life in Scotland would be much the same after independence is hard enough to make after Brexit, but it would be harder still to believe if Scotland somehow achieved independence illegally by some form of rebellion. If that wouldn’t frighten the Scottish horses, what would?

The Pro UK task is to get rid of Sturgeon, because she is the reason for increased support for the SNP. We must thank the SNP’s fundamentalist wing for helping us in this task.

But even if Sturgeon survives her party is so divided that it is impossible to imagine it achieving independence either by means of fundamentalism or by means of gradualism. The SNP might manage a Sturgeon Salmond Pact on the lines of Molotov Ribbentrop, but while it might be able to defeat Poland it could not defeat Britain.

The cupboard is bare if Sturgeon goes. The next leader of the SNP would either advocate rebellion or would be a Sturgeon clone, but less talented.

Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams were right to go down the gradualist route, because they were able to trade making peace for a political process that could eventually give them their aim. It was for this reason the British were willing to work with and protect them for some years prior to the end of the armed struggle.

Sturgeon is in a similar position, but she has nothing to bargain. It is for this reason that she is being attacked internally. She keeps promising what she cannot deliver, and the patience of her supporters is running out. She is wounded no matter the result of the Inquiry so much so that it matters little if she is forced to resign or not.