The long awaited trial of Alex Salmond starts this week in Edinburgh. He stands trial on serious charges of sexual assault and attempted rape, allegations which he strongly denies. Like any defendant in any trial, he is innocent until proven guilty, and the onus is upon the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.
First of all, it’s important to point out that there are very strict laws about prejudicing trials and contempt of court. It is illegal to report or comment on any of the many rumours which have been swirling around. We cannot make any comment which might risk identifying those who have accused the former First Minister of sexual assault, or which might influence the jurors. We cannot speculate or opine on the likelihood of Alex Salmond’s guilt or innocence. We cannot speculate about the motives of those who have made the allegations. Please bear that in mind when you leave a comment.
The independence movement needs to brace itself, because it’s a trial which will dominate the Scottish and international media for weeks to come. Alex Salmond is more than a former party leader, he’s also a titan of the independence movement. It is true to say that Alex Salmond’s political skills and abilities have contributed more to the cause of Scottish independence than any other individual. He’s a giant of a political figure, and he’s being tried on serious charges which if he’s convicted of would mean significant time in prison. The independence movement has already come to expect a diet of SNPbaddery from the British media, and dreads this trial as all the British media’s SNPbad Christmasses come at once.
Yet this is also a trial that has been anticipated with unseemly glee by British nationalists on social media, who have set themselves up as the judge, jury and executioner of the independence movement. They are eagerly awaiting an outcome which they hope will see the end of Alex Salmond, of Nicola Sturgeon, of the SNP, of the wider independence movement, and of any prospect of independence for Scotland. All without them having to do very much at all. They hope it’s a get out of jail free card for British nationalism in Scotland.
We cannot speculate about the outcome of the trial, but what we can say with confidence that the hopes of British nationalists that it spells an end to the independence movement are going to be misplaced. This trial, whatever the verdict, will not have a long term effect on Scotland’s drive for self-determination. It will not derail the independence movement.
The hope that this trial has the potential to stop the independence movement in its tracks is driven by the belief that the independence movement is driven by the SNP. It’s not. It’s the independence movement which drives the SNP. For all the media’s attempts to paint the 2014 referendum as “Alex Salmond’s referendum”, it was never his referendum in the first place. It was Scotland’s. British nationalists have managed to convince themselves that the independence movement is a creature of Alex Salmond and the SNP, and if he were to be permanently removed from the political scene in disgrace, the resulting fall out in the SNP would also spell the end of the independence movement. They’re wrong.
Alex Salmond was hugely influential in getting the ball of Scottish independence rolling. But now that it is rolling it has developed a momentum and power of its own. Towering and inspiring figures like Alex Salmond are important in the movement, but they neither own it nor define it. No one supported Scottish independence out of a personal loyalty to Alex Salmond. They supported independence because of a belief that it’s only when Scotland governs itself can this country start to embark upon the changes that it needs to bring about social justice, to tackle poverty and inequality, to ensure that Scotland’s rich resources are used to benefit the people of Scotland and to develop Scotland’s economy. None of that changes, no matter what happens in that court room in Edinburgh.
Equally what is driving the increase in support for independence which we have seen over the past few months, leading to a situation where it’s no longer ground breaking news to have opinion polls showing a majority for yes, isn’t the SNP. Far less is it a former SNP leader. What’s been driving it is Brexit and the contempt and disdain with which the British state has treated Scotland throughout the Brexit process. It’s the prospect of years of Boris Johnson and his acolytes in power in Westminster. It’s the realisation that Scotland can only get a government which is accountable to the people of Scotland through independence. It’s the knowledge that the safest and quickest route back into the EU is through independence. None of that changes, no matter what happens in that court room in Edinburgh.
Yet it’s also true that the independence movement is sailing into some very stormy waters. The next few weeks are likely to be uncomfortable and upsetting. This above all else is a time when we need to remain calm, to stay focussed, and to keep our eyes on the prize. This trial is a huge event but it will have only a short term political effect. The fact that it’s been long anticipated is an important reason why Nicola Sturgeon has not yet openly challenged the British Government over its refusal to cooperate with another referendum. This trial needs to be got out of the way first and the dust allowed to settle. Once that has happened, the underlying dynamic which drives the demand for independence will reassert itself.
Boris Johnson isn’t going away. Brexit isn’t going away. The inability and unwillingness of the British state to accommodate Scotland isn’t going away. The contempt and arrogance of the Conservatives isn’t going away. The real drivers of the demand for Scottish independence are Boris Johnson’s lying fnaugh fnaughs, Priti Patel’s smirk, Michael Gove’s sliming, Jacob Rees Mogg’s posh boy smugness, and the patrician cluelessness of Alister Jack. What’s driving independence is the most right wing, the most incompetently cruel, British government in living memory. That’s not going to change no matter what happens in a court room in Edinburgh. Those who fervently hope that this trial spells the end for the independence movement are about to be disappointed.
Update 4pm: Since writing this piece I’ve learned about the Herald’s Big Read about the forthcoming trial. It’s a shockingly irresponsible piece which illustrates an article about Alex Salmond’s trial with photographs of the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, Fred and Rose West, Peter Sutcliffe, the killers of James Bulger, Myra Hyndley and Ian Brady, Dennis Nilsen, and Charles Manson, while telling us that “of course” they’re not drawing any connections between these vile creatures and the former First Minister. The piece is available in the paper’s print edition but doesn’t seem to be in the online edition (which is why I didn’t see it earlier).
This is a foretaste of the kind of “reporting” that’s in store for us over the coming weeks. I never had a high opinion of the British media in Scotland to begin with, but even I am gobsmacked at this. It’s a sign of how desperate and afraid they are of the increasing reality of Scottish independence.
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