Sensemaker: Salmond v Sturgeon

Tuesday 23 February 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Biden urged Americans not to become numb to the sorrow of bereavement as US Covid deaths passed 500,000.
  • Johnson offered England a tentative plan out of lockdown under which international leisure travel would not resume until May.
  • Daft Punk, the French electronic dance duo, split after 28 years. 

Salmond v Sturgeon

It remains a plausible outcome that the United Kingdom will cease to exist in its current form in the coming decade. A key milestone along the route to that, if it comes, is likely to be the forthcoming election to the Scottish parliament in May. That is why it is so astonishing that the Scottish National Party, the dominant political force in Scotland and the core of the pro-independence movement, is tearing itself apart. Alex Salmond, the former first minister, is trying to destroy his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

The cause, though, deserves serious consideration: it is about the process by which a series of workplace allegations of sexual assault against Alex Salmond eventually made their way to court – and to a trial at which Salmond was acquitted. The allegations emerged after Salmond had left office, and were handled under Sturgeon’s leadership – an investigation so botched that the Scottish Government has already been forced to recompense Salmond. 

A Scottish parliament committee inquiry into the affair has become an arena in which these serious sets of allegations from several women have become tokens in a political game.  One of the women has already said the committee has proved more traumatic than the trial. They have been allowed to become collateral damage in political point-scoring. The complaints raised by Salmond, though, are also remarkably serious. 

Salmond has already accused Sturgeon of lying. In testimony published last night, he added that there has been “a complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between government, political party and indeed the prosecution authorities in any country which abides by the rule of law”. This is an accusation that hurts the SNP leadership: it aligns with longstanding unionist critiques of the SNP’s smothering embrace of institutions across Scotland.

Salmond has accused his successor of taking a role in “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”. He is appearing in person on Wednesday to give evidence. Sturgeon will follow. Finally, after years of slipping past her opponents, she looks vulnerable. This is the unionists’ (and Salmondites’) best shot at her.

It comes as the party is sliding into in-fighting on other fronts. Salmond’s supporters have (broadly) tended to be more conservative on issues like trans rights and more aggressive on measures for securing independence. Part of the reason why this has become a bigger deal is that, for a lot of SNP members, there is more to it than the personality of the two people who created the modern independence movement. 

The Scottish National Party has looked on track to secure a majority in favour of a second referendum for a while – but it is not a given. Even if the SNP get through May with a decent majority, the movement may not be able to hold together.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The Republican primary
The Trump era is not over. Axios has reported that Trump will refer to himself as the Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” in a speech at the weekend. More than that, he is expected “to stoke primary challenges for some of those who have crossed him, and shower money and endorsements on the Trumpiest candidates”. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has ruled that it will allow Trump’s tax records to be handed over to prosecutors in New York. This is just a pause. The noise is coming back. 


New things technology, science, engineering

Australian blackouts
Facebook is easing up on its blockade of Australian news outlets. Aussies will be able to share news once again amid the pictures of babies and dogs. The social media company had responded to a new law in Australia by barring news coverage from their platform. A new competition code demanded, in effect, that the tech giants negotiate with news organisations for the right to link to their work. The idea is to enable news providers to get a better bargaining position: for every $100 spent by Australian advertisers today, $49 goes to Google and $24 to Facebook, according to the country’s competition watchdog. The law has been widely seen as driven by Rupert Murdoch’s desire to pull back some of that revenue. The law is clumsy: it requires the tech giants to give notice of algorithm changes to Aussie news outlets as well as paying news companies for the privilege of sending them traffic. It will, however, be watched closely as a model for news funding.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Qatar’s casualties
The World Cup in Qatar is still happening next year. The Guardian has pulled together statistics detailing how at least 6,500 migrants have died there since the little petro-emirate was granted the tournament. The problem with an opaque autocracy is that it is hard to work out how many of these deaths were just bad luck – and how much this is a story about a country that places no weight on the deaths of foreign workers. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Justice delayed
The NYT ($) reports that the US has deported a 95 year-old man to Germany for his role as a Neuengamme concentration camp guard. Friedrich Karl Berger, a Tennessee resident, is accused of guarding prisoners during a forced march that claimed 70 lives. During hearings in the US, he acknowledged that he had never sought a transfer from this job – and he continued to draw a veteran’s pension from Germany. He has been deported, not extradited, and will face no further action in Germany. There were no witnesses who testified against him. Indeed, 75 years after the Nuremberg tribunals, this may be the very last case ever brought by the world’s dwindling band of Nazi hunters. They will continue to do valuable work, though – not just in their essential archival work on the Holocaust, but in haunting the dreams of the remaining guilty.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Green cash
A fascinating article in the FT (£) describes how a mismatch between the number of climate-conscious investors and decent green companies is creating something of an eco-bubble. Virtuous funds with environment, social and governance principles took in $350bn last year – double the amount in the previous 12 months. And there are not enough good investments for that money to chase. The share price of 30 green companies is currently valued at about 40 times the companies’ expected profits – roughly double the ratio for the average big American company. 

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs by Getty Images