The courts have spoken, now Salmond looks to reclaim reputation

Parliamentary inquiry gets under way into how complaints against the former first minister were handled.

The courts have spoken, now Salmond looks to reclaim reputation Getty Images

In recent months I have read an avalanche of tweets, blogs, articles, court reports and now committee papers into various aspects of the shadow cast by Scotland’s former first minister.

The eyes popped at the evidence heard in the High Court and the ears burned as his supporters claimed he was the victim of a stitch up.

The post-trial acquittal led to extraordinarily lengthy polemics anchored in two competing views: he was a good man who was framed, or he was a bad man who exploited status and power to abuse women.

From what I can see there are three issues that have divided: his prosecution, the complaints procedure operated by the Scottish Government into harassment allegations and whether this all has a bearing on the timetable for an independence referendum.

Some of those arguing with one another on social media are motivated by different considerations, which mean the discourse becomes defined by perception rather than hard fact. A nuanced interpretation of issues becomes difficult and eventually impossible as exchanges are blown along by conspiracy theories.

A word on what it is reasonable to conclude from the trial. The obvious is worth stating because it appears lost on some. Mr Salmond is an innocent man. He entered the High Court an innocent man and he left the High Court an innocent man. 

I read and heard several reports saying he ‘walked free’ as if he was somehow anything less than innocent when he traversed the daily media gauntlet on the Lawnmarket.

His acquittal means the jury did not find the charges against him proved beyond reasonable doubt. It does not necessarily imply that the jury did not believe his accusers; it does mean that the crimes libelled against him were not proven to the required legal threshold.

That is much as can be said and the post-trial opinions offering the view the jurors viewed the women as fantasists or liars is no more than subjective opinion rooted in conjecture.

When people become entrenched in their views, objectivity is the first casualty quickly followed by perspective. And when the more conspiratorially minded detonate their imaginations, it can all get a bit silly.

It is said the charges against Alex Salmond were choreographed for political purposes, that in essence people came together to trigger a criminal complaint to do him down for reasons of politics.

Mr Salmond clearly believes this and his brief comments after the trial suggest he has evidence that points to a political conspiracy, evidence that was inadmissible as far as the criminal trial was concerned.

It is hoped by his supporters that the parliamentary inquiry into how some of the allegations emerged may now shed light on some of this.

The fact that evidence was ruled inadmissible does not mean that there was not a conspiracy against Mr Salmond, it simply means that it was inadmissible as far as the court proceedings were concerned.

I will wait and see where this goes in the coming weeks and have a completely open mind on the issue.

I find it difficult to accept that any woman or women would come together and try to induce a prison sentence against a man for political reasons.

If there is evidence of a conspiracy and to embellish stories, then no doubt the Crown Office will direct an investigation into a possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The prosecution was not politically motivated and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. The complaints that led to the trial may or may not have had such a motivation, time may tell on that front.

The job of the lord advocate is to decide if there is evidence of a crime being committed, whether or not that evidence can be corroborated and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.

Here I offer a non-lawyer’s take on the indictment.

Many of the complaints against Mr Salmond, if taken individually, were not in the public interest to prosecute since they amounted to nuisance behaviour which, if true, was unwelcome but not criminal. 

The ‘minor’ charges were obviously led in evidence to corroborate a pattern of alleged behaviour and to bolster the more serious charges. Had those serious complaints not emerged I doubt the remainder would have been prosecuted at all.

Did Salmond’s status affect the decision to prosecute? I have known several lord advocates and I am willing to assert that none of them would be influenced by the standing of an accused and that is my view of James Wolffe QC, the current lord advocate, in relation to the decision to prosecute a former first minister.

Having known many prosecutors over the years, they all offer the view there is a never-admitted-to policy of prosecuting weak sexual offences cases in order that the system is seen to do all that it can for the victim, even if that means prosecuting cases which arguably don’t meet the evidential threshold for a trial to commence.

Criminal trials are adversarial affairs so it is incumbent on the prosecution to advance the worst possible gloss on testimony in relation to the accused and for the defence to rubbish it. Trials don’t necessarily establish truth, they test whether evidence meet the requirements to establish guilt. Guilt and truth are not necessarily synonymous.

So at one end we had the advocate depute portray Mr Salmond as some sort of Scottish Harvey Weinstein and his defence counsel dismiss a lot of the complaints as no more than a ‘footer’. I was not in court so I have no informed view of the full evidence, suffice to say the closing speeches both seem to give more than a nod to hyperbole.

The trial was hugely damaging for Mr Salmond, despite his acquittal. His public reputation has been battered and a lengthy timeline of different procedures from the Court of Session to the High Court and now the Scottish Parliament has ensured he has been unable to mount a public defence of his character.

The Scottish Parliamentary proceedings starting today will tell us how allegations against Mr Salmond were first made and the procedures that were adopted to deal with complaints against ministers.

His supporters believe that the committee may well flush out whether decision-making had its genesis in a desire to target him specifically rather than deal with complaints in the general sense.

What we do know is that the procedures used to investigate those initial complaints were unlawful. The Court of Session has established that much. Mr Salmond has therefore been the victim of one kangaroo court and cleared by another, the High Court of Justiciary.

The paper trail that led to the complaints procedure might shed evidence on the allegation of his supporters that he was the victim of dirty tricks. Who was orchestrator-in-chief and to what end?

As this committee will generate huge interest I hope the MSPs stick to the issues. Given the First Minister and her husband, who is also the SNP’s chief executive, will give evidence, it is almost an incitement to grandstanding by members of the committee.

Alex Salmond will also give evidence and he now deserves the opportunity to be heard. His accusers, rightly, have had their anonymity protected.

He, on the other hand, has been put through an emotional shredder, condemned by some who willed a guilty verdict because they don’t like his politics and derided by others in the ‘no smoke without fire’ corner of public opinion.

The civil and criminal courts have spoken. Parliament now has the opportunity to assess how this entire saga started. Mr Salmond can now begin the task of rebuilding his reputation hoping, but not conclusively knowing, that his version of events will find an echo in the committee’s report.

As for the repercussions, that depends on the conclusions and whether Mr Salmond believes there is more that needs to be said. The timing coincides with the run-up to an election period, so the stakes are high.

Facts are chiels that winna ding, is a favourite Burns saying beloved of Mr Salmond. I’ll give you one prediction. The entrenched armies both within and outwith the independence movement will choose their own facts to bolster their own narrative once this committee reports. The recurring tones and attitudes on social media are beyond the moderation of god almighty.

One day, and it is probably well into the future, the final word will be uttered on the fallout. Amen to that.