A year ago this week Alex Salmond was acquitted on all 13 charges in his sexual assault trial. In normal times the conclusion of the most significant political trial since the Thorpe affair in 1979 would have dominated the news for weeks. Instead, the story was overshadowed by the start of the UK’s first lockdown. But the aftershocks of this trial continue to rock politics in Scotland and beyond.
A Holyrood committee this week concluded that Nicola Sturgeon had misled it regarding her conversation with Salmond at her house about the Scottish government’s inquiry into him. The committee, which has a pro-independence majority but not an SNP one, decided this by majority vote. It was also sceptical of her claim that she had no suspicions about Salmond’s behaviour before November 2017. But a separate inquiry by the former Irish director of public prosecutions James Hamilton cleared Sturgeon of breaking the Scottish ministerial code, which he is an independent adviser on. Nonetheless, it is hard to work out what he thinks actually happened. As he writes, the redactions to his report mean that it ‘presents an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what happened’.
Understandably, Sturgeon is claiming vindication. The look of exhaustion etched on her face for weeks has been replaced with a smile. Unionists in both London and Edinburgh have been taken aback by how decisively Hamilton stated that Sturgeon had not broken the code. One MSP tells me that ‘people were shocked and stunned when the Hamilton report dropped’. In the Scottish Tory group at Holyrood, there is a sense that they got too far forward on their skis, that they shouldn’t have called for a vote of no confidence in Sturgeon before they knew the report and committee conclusions.