Former Leader Goes on Attack in Scotland’s Big Political Feud
(Bloomberg) -- The former leader of Scotland’s government and its campaign for independence suggested the handling of an investigation into harassment claims against him showed the nation wasn’t ready to stand on its own as a sovereign state.
In a direct attack on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, his successor and former protege, Alex Salmond told a parliamentary inquiry Scotland’s “leadership had failed.” Independence, “which I’ve sought all my political life and continue to seek,” must be “accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong and robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority,” he said.
The comments marked the latest escalation in a toxic dispute between the two most prominent faces of Scottish politics just weeks before an election that could prove critical to the future direction of not just Scotland, but Britain as a whole. Sturgeon is pushing for a second vote on breaking away from the rest of the U.K. and is seeking a renewed mandate in May to exert more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant one.
Salmond was giving evidence to a cross-party group of lawmakers after he accused Sturgeon’s government of a politically motivated campaign to remove him from public life over allegations he sexually assaulted women while in office. He was acquitted by a court last year after a judge earlier had ruled that the way the government had investigated the claims had been unlawful.
“The failures of leadership are many and obvious, but not a single person has taken responsibility, there has not been a single resignation or sacking, not even an admonition,“ Salmond said on Friday. “The government acted illegally, but somehow, nobody is to blame.”
The clash between the two drivers of the Scottish independence movement also comes when support for their dream looks strongest, and the question is whether it moves the political needle enough to dent the governing Scottish National Party.
The spat heated up this week after the Scottish Parliament published documents from Salmond before revising some of what was released after concerns from the public prosecution service. Sturgeon says her former mentor’s claims of a conspiracy are untrue and that she is ready to face the inquiry next Wednesday to answer questions on the mistakes that were made.
Sturgeon rebuffed suggestions by the opposition Conservatives on Thursday that there was a cover up and that Scotland’s parliament and judiciary should not be “sacrificed at the altar of the ego of one man.” “What is poisoning our democratic institutions is politicians standing up and hurling abuse without a shred of evidence,” she told the legislature in Edinburgh.
An opinion poll published on Thursday showed the SNP is on track for a majority in the May election. The survey by Ipsos MORI forecast the party would win 72 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, though the pollster warned the inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints against Salmond is starting to register with the electorate. Support for Scottish independence declined to 52%.
The problem for Sturgeon and her party is that she is very much the face of Scottish politics and the push for independence. The outcome of the inquiry -- and a separate one into whether she mislead parliament over a meeting with Salmond -- could put pressure on her to resign if she’s found to have broken the ministerial code, which Salmond alleges and she denies.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.