Henry Kissinger’s sardonic appraisal of the Iran-Iraq War is increasingly applicable to the war between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon: it is a shame they can’t both lose. Disinterested observers, however, are under no obligation to pick a team. It is wholly possible neither protagonist has offered a convincing version of events. Treating Salmond’s claims sceptically imposes no requirement to swallow Sturgeon’s and, indeed, vice versa.
Salmond’s allegations are so extraordinary they risk seeming incredible. It is one thing to allege that senior officials within the SNP – including but not limited to Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – wished to destroy Salmond’s reputation. It is also one thing to allege that the Scottish government and civil service were also determined to do him in. And it is still a further thing to allege that the Crown Office – and perhaps in time Police Scotland, too – were also happy to see Salmond imprisoned on the flimsiest of grounds. Put these allegations together and you have one hell of a thing. If true – an important and sometimes overlooked detail – it would be a conspiracy on a monstrous, unprecedented, scale. If true, it would amount to the near total corruption of Scottish public life.
Sturgeon yesterday asked us to ‘be careful here’ and avoid endorsing “false, damaging conspiracies that have no basis in fact’ and which could ‘start to unfairly undermine trust in our public institutions’. Well, indeed. But it is worth pausing to remember why we are here in the first place. Two truths cannot be wished away: first, multiple women raised concerns about Salmond’s behaviour and second, the Scottish government’s investigation into those complaints was a botched fiasco. Salmond sought judicial review and the government collapsed its own case, acknowledging it had behaved in a manner that was, literally, indefensible.