The fever is high, but public engagement seems, as yet to lag… Scottish politics is running a colourful factionalist temperature from the ‘Manky Jaiket’ so-called greens to the new Alba blues. New parties have appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in the fray, and schisms, nastiness, invective, small hatreds and big ugly prejudices seem the order of the day. Owen Dudley Edwards attempts a dispassionate round-up, and counsels an end to self-harm.
The criminal trial of Mr Alex Salmond on several complaints by anonymous women resulted in his being found ‘not guilty’ on all counts, save one which found its charge ‘not proven’. The Scottish verdict of ‘not proven’ means that persons found ‘not guilty’ in Scotland have received a firmer acquittal than those accorded in other jurisdictions. Recent Tory demands for the abolition of ‘Not Proven’ (on the usual Tory grounds that it isn’t English) have won support from ill-advised SNP officials. There is always danger in peripheries slavishly following the latest fashion from the metropolis, from the Union of 1707 onwards.
KEEP SCOTLAND ENGLISH!
The Observer (21 March 2021) being Unionist declared that Mr Salmond’s acquittal meant nothing, and that another jury might have found him guilty. This pronunciamento proved conclusively that on Scottish questions the Observer doesn’t know what it is talking about, thus giving its purchasers false measure for their £3.20. The Observer might plead that its customers should know perfectly well that its Scottish coverage (if any) will be ignorant and unreliable since it dispensed with its columnist on Scottish affairs some months ago, and is therefore little more trustworthy than the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Sun, &c. Perhaps the Observer might be improved by a little education in Scots law from the presiding judge in the Salmond trial (the Lord Justice-Clerk, Lady Dorrian) in the shape of a sharp sentence for contempt of court. Or would this unfairly over-price their claims of insular integrity? Anyhow, the Tories want to abolish ‘not proven’, and SNP voices utter quavering bids to follow suit. On this, and on all else in the coming months, nationalists would be best advised to stay nationalist, rather than aping Unionists’ demagoguery on Scottish traditions or on other nationalists.
SCOTLAND’S LATEST PHARISEES
Mr Salmond expressed contrition for any actions on his part which while not illegal might have upset recipients of over-enthusiastic moments of celebration. He keeps his religious opinions to himself, but his Unionist media critics might have borne in mind the publican whom Jesus praised in his parable (Luke xviii.9-14) for acknowledging himself a sinner, while the Pharisee was telling God how wonderful he himself was. Mr Salmond’s enemies duly understudied the self-satisfied Pharisee denouncing the publican, in a loathsome exhibition of Pharisaical hypocrisy. It came particularly disgracefully from Murdo Fraser MSP while supposedly investigating the Salmond case for a Scottish Parliamentary committee, otherwise proclaiming himself a communicant of the Church of Scotland (whose kirk session should put him on the stool of repentance for proving today’s Holy Willie). No doubt Mr Fraser has cause to be bitter, his fellow-Tories in the Scottish Parliament having denied him their leadership, accepting instead a London parliamentarian, Douglas Ross MP, whose idiotic attempts to dictate in advance the committee’s report to the Parliament to which Mr Ross does not belong, left Mr Fraser visibly naked to his enemies. On political questions many a committee voter might be accused of making up its mind in advance of the final evidence, but the unfortunate Mr Fraser had his mind announced from Westminster without even the pretence of his having made it up himself.
Another Holyrood Pharisee denouncing Mr Salmond for his repentance was Mr Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Liberal Democrats, admittedly with some need to redeem himself as a misogynist having been forced two weeks earlier to apologise for replying to a woman minister in the Scottish Parliament with sexual obscenity.
TAKE BACK CONTROL, LONDON!
We may have a shred of compassion for the wretched Mr Fraser, broken, bridled and saddled for Mr Douglas Ross’s horsemanship in the (very) light brigade charging into the valley of electoral death by order of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for whom the police were called while he brawled with his mistress whom he subsequently set up in 10 Downing Street, an elevation unknown since David Lloyd George a hundred years ago. Mr Johnson himself cannot remember how many children he has sired. Small wonder Unionists want to transfer public attention from real Prime Ministerial scandals on the Thames to discredited complaints against former First Ministers on the Forth. Mr Johnson is thereby confronted with a new argument for devolution despite his hopes to destroy it. Frenzied Tory attempts to make capital against Scottish nationalism from the Salmond trial while desperately hoping the public will ignore the real reprobate in 10 Downing Street, recall Irish politics in the days of Charlie Haughey when Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote on the eve of a general election in 1982 ‘so the good ship Fianna Fail seeks to enter harbour with the skeleton in the cupboard lashed firmly to the mast’. He was writing in the Observer which was then a reputable newspaper. Today’s Tories enter Scotland’s Elections masted with the latest Haugheys, galloping on wishes for horses.
ENGLISH FASHIONS FOR SCOTTISH NATIONS
The Observer’s stable-mate the Guardian told its readers on 25 March 2021 that ‘The right of a complainant to anonymity has been routinely forgotten or wilfully trampled on many fronts in vicious political trench warfare’ in order to justify its conclusion that ‘the SNP has involuntarily made a case for change in the way Scotland is governed’. This is mountainous labour to produce a perpetually recycled mouse. The Guardian is a Unionist paper and therefore forever advocates the death of SNP which exists as a party to achieve Scottish independence, and while it remains in government Unionists from Mr Boris Johnson to the Guardian must always be demanding a change in the way Scotland is governed. The Guardian’s editorial stance must be much more useful to Mr Johnson than to anyone else, since it provides his Unionism with feminist clothing of which he is otherwise in short supply. Anonymous women had complained of Mr Salmond with testimony heard and rejected in the Scottish law courts without disclosure of their identities, which still remain unknown in law whatever the press speculations. No doubt the Guardian wishes to flourish its omniscience in its readers’ faces, but it might as well claim that the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask means that Scotland must change its government.
WAS SIR HUMPHREY A WOMAN?
We can certainly speak with authority on the motivation of the first woman who initiated or prompted measures resulting in the prosecution of Mr Salmond. Whoever she was, she certainly hated the idea of Scottish independence. No sane Scottish Nationalist could have taken such steps, whatever their view of Mr Salmond. Some of the anonymous complainants were stated to be civil servants. Viewers of the famous TV Soap YES, MINISTER know Sir Humphrey will always have his own defensive agenda. The series satirised all characters, but while civil servants may mock those they manage, they themselves may secretly possess ideals they regard as patriotism, however hostile to the party in power whom they nominally serve. Let us imagine an English civil servant trained and matured in Oxbridge and London well before the (re)birth of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, sent to aid devolved Scottish government, and secretly deeming Scottish independence unpatriotic. It would be surprising if there were not such a person, or that they might undertake surreptitious sabotage as patriotic duty. Prime Minister Johnson and Home Secretary Patel seem to think they have encountered such subversives in their London establishments: exile in Scotland might easily add a ruthless cutting edge to alienation of such veterans from their nominal masters.
IAGO RIDES AGAIN
Nobody who wanted Scottish independence could easily maintain their self-respect if they imperilled it by making public charges against its most famous and effective statesman. The actual verdict of Mr Salmond’s trial means that the supposed incidents were not credible or not serious, however melodramatic their anonymous narrators. The first complainant obviously realised possible implications for the cause of Scottish independence. The probability is that such motivation was shared among the rest. Some may have masqueraded in public as supporters of Scottish independence, may even had held positions implying nationalist fervour on their parts, but at bottom they hated what they claimed to love. An interesting book remains to be written on the mentality of opponents of Scottish independence, among whom some distinguished Scottish intellectuals have fallen into wildly irrational abuse. One of the finest historians in Scotland became so enraged by the controversy as to call a widely respected younger fellow-scholar and SNP MP a ‘slut’. As moral balance disintegrates, today’s sex-saturated culture multiplies sexual fantasies into controversial indictments. Gestures once generally deemed high spirits are made fodder for the criminal courts. Gossip about prominent persons is elevated into matters of state.
WOMEN AS MALE PROPERTY
Human history has consisted primarily of male exploitation of female, whether preserved in records, retailed in traditions, or indifferently forgotten. Women have probably been better custodians and transmitters of tradition, men have normally controlled archival maintenance. Marriage through the ages was probably legalised rape in the majority of cases, frequently turning on property deals between male-ruled families. That men held official control ensured that women usually did the bulk of the physical work in fields and at home as well as child-rearing, food-preparation, story-telling, diplomatic manoeuvering, &c. Ethnic hagiography from King Arthur to Genghis Khan made its heroes the products of rape. War meant rape as the privilege of the victors. Women were also trophies to be stolen or saved in the fortune of war. Herodotus beginning his Histories found the background to Greek-Persian conflict in epics turning on raids for women — many disguised as amorous adventures of Zeus (raping Europa &c) — the most famous retained by mythology or even history in the experiences of Persephone, Andromeda, Medea, Hippolyta, Helen, &c. Rome got its first population by the rape of the Sabine women.
WITCH-HUNTS IN SEASON
One of the effects of this was an occasionally recurring theme of male guilt, usually resolved in male chauvinist threats of vengeance on rapists as violators of their property. It persisted far beyond primitive cultures. Macaulay’s essay on Byron (Edinburgh Review, June 1831) argued that such manifestations emerged vehemently but irregularly:
We know of no spectacle as ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality. … once in six or seven years our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot suffer the laws of … decency to be violated. We must make a stand against vice. We must teach libertines that the English people appreciate the importance of domestic ties. Accordingly some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out in an expiatory sacrifice. … He is, in truth, a sort of whipping-boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of the same class are, it is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very complacently on our own severity, and compare with great pride the high standard of morals established in England with the Parisian laxity. … At length our anger is satiated. Our victim is ruined and heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years more.
HOW UNNECESSARY IS A JURY?
It may be suitably ironic if media treatment of Mr Salmond is to be blamed on our keeping up with England, but this particular pandemic originally infected us from America. It was set off by the trial and conviction of Harvey Weinstein which it is clearly reasonable to applaud. But the feminist movement ‘Me, too’ is proving all too appropriately named. To prove feminism alive and well in your country, select your male victim and denounce away.
The horror in Mr Salmond’s case was that his acquittal was followed by denunciations far and wide. Messrs Murdo Fraser MSP (Tory) and Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Liberal Democrat) evidently despise and dismiss the verdict of a Scottish jury presided over by an obviously accomplished and authoritative Scottish female judge. (Female judges are likely to be wiser than male, since they have had so much harder work to be recognised as qualified for judgeships.) Flourishings of Kleenex became a positive health hazard as Unionist politicians bewailed the failure of the anonymous complainants to impress the jurors. On the stump, such Unionists will give open rein to their oleaginous demands for public obedience to the rule of law as though they had invented it personally. It may prove more difficult to tell Scottish citizens to respect the law while finding its workings unjust for having acquitted a political opponent. The unsuccessful complainants were consistently described as wronged and ill-served, although nothing can be known of them beyond their complaints and anonymous testimony which the jurors rejected. Their would-be vindicators seem to find the Scottish court’s verdict worse than that of the Inquisition which had St Joan burnt at the stake. Societies which could not produce comparable cases to Weinstein felt inferior, and readily suspected male conspiracy in the failure to find a miscreant of sufficient prominence. The media having done so much to aggravate incessant sex chatter hastily assumed po-faces and became we-too echoes of ‘Me, too’. It had the good effect of gaining fresh ground for the women journalists, writers, presenters, &c in a world which had undervalued and underpaid them for as long as it could. But the furore seems likely to follow the pattern described by Macaulay. A few famous names will be accused, and even if acquitted will be widely treated as though they had been guilty. Prosecution authorities may step up the number of investigations of rape, and increase the number of prosecutions, for the moment subordinating the usual male assumption that all women want to be raped anyway. And then the media will find new toys.
The noisier Holyrood committee-members investigating the Salmond trial sought to make it fuel to burn Nicola Sturgeon MSP for inadequacy as a First Minister. Their attempts were manifestly contemptible, since Messrs Fraser and Cole-Hamilton as supplanters of Ms Sturgeon would be McGonagalls replacing Hugh MacDiarmid, while Mr Fraser’s official candidate for First Minister, Mr Douglas Ross, would make McGonagall sound musical. (Mr Cole-Hamilton’s official candidate, the genial Willie Rennie MSP (survivor in a party of permanent regicide) would be better than Mr Cole-Hamilton, but who wouldn’t?)
I SENT A LETTER TO MY LOVE AND ON THE WAY I LOST IT
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has largely governed Scotland ably and humanely. Her overall performance has been truly worthy of Mr Salmond, the First Minister who preceded her in office and trained her for the succession. In dignity and seriousness of purpose she is a heart-warming contrast to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. So far from deserving removal, she would be well advised to spend less time with her family. In 1969 Winnie Ewing recently elected as Scotland’s sole Nationalist MP was invited to the unveiling of the new Annigoni portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and after the speeches the crowds mingled elsewhere leaving Winnie’s husband Stewart Ewing gazing at the portrait, to be interrupted by a sardonic voice behind him: ‘Well, Mr Ewing, how does it feel?’ The Duke of Edinburgh liked to find unusual common ground with people he met, and here was a perfect instance: they were male consorts to the most famous two women in 1969 Britain. The role of male consort to a female ruler has been sustained in 57 varieties throughout history, and it has certainly included kingship in all but name, as with Victoria’s Albert. Ms Nicola Sturgeon’s husband since 2010, Mr Peter Murrell, has been Chief Executive Officer of SNP since 1999. Like his wife, his chief career benefactor was Mr Salmond. But when police proceedings against Mr Salmond were initiated on 24 January 2019, the following day Mr Murrell sent e-mails apparently hoping for Mr Salmond’s conviction and imprisonment, one saying ‘T[o] B[e] H[onest] the more fronts he [Mr Salmond] is having to firefight on[,] the better for all complainers. So C[rown P[rosecution] S[ervice action would be a good thing.’ On 7 October 2020 he was reported admitting their authorship to the Holyrood Committee. The viciousness of the hope was extraordinary. We have been all too conscious of the multiple forest fires of California and Australia in recent months, and the exultant metaphor wishing a comparable fate to that of anyone trapped among them shows a pretty sick mind.
Mr Murrell was ill-advised to claim honesty, particularly in a communication intended to be concealed from the public. He made claims of honesty so frequently as to do so by initials which his recipients understood. It revealed a bad conscience, as well as private treachery. Why Mr Murrell ratted on his former benefactor we cannot say. What private griefs he had alas we know not, that made him do it (as Shakespeare’s Antony said of Caesar’s murderers (Julius Caesar III.ii.217-8)). But it is certainly not in the interest of the party (which employs him at a high salary) to seek to disgrace the former party leader who established SNP in its present commanding position in Scottish politics.
WHO’S FOR LUNCH?
The egregious Mr Douglas Ross has declared Alex Salmond ‘unfit to stand’ for election at Holyrood. He seems to hold himself even less fit for it, since he stands not personally but as a ‘list’ candidate. But he does declare himself moral ticket-checker of the Scottish Parliament. Similarly he abuses Labour and Liberal Democrats for not entering a Unionist junta with him, having memories of the fate of the Liberal Democrats who coalesced with the Tories in 2010: he is the cannibal chieftain demanding his lunch. He is reported declaring that the Murrell e-mails left Mr Murrell’s ‘position as chief executive of the SNP completely untenable’, so it seems he thinks he owns the Scottish Parliament while also the proprietor of SNP. Mr Salmond might agree with King Lear that a thankless child is sharper than a serpent’s tooth, but he is in no need of aid from a Unionist chattering Fool. The folly may be an occupational hazard like housemaid’s knee, clergyman’s throat, or drayman’s bottom: Mr Ross is a referee, and therefore subjects everyone to his whistle. He hands out cards to imaginary footballers while bawling charges which might improve a Christmas pantomime, in tones commonplace in the House of Commons when Tories are barracking opponents. But Holyrood should have higher standards. Mr Ross is neither an SNP member nor a Holyrood MSP, but — however egregious — the Fool may fall over the truth once in a blue moon. Ms Sturgeon’s services to Scotland obviously outweigh whatever sins she has committed in the Salmond case, but Mr Murrell can have no such plea. A Chief Executive Officer seeking to incite civil war between the most successful leaders of the party that employs him has outlived his value.
GAMESMANSHIP AS POLITICAL FAITH
The attacks on Mr Salmond are also partly caused by fear. Would admission that Mr Salmond has been acquitted cause SNP to lose feminist votes? Certain SNP politicians sound as if they are shaken by the thought. Even Ms Sturgeon, for all of her obligations to Mr Salmond, has flourished some soiled linen she should have left in Tory laundries. In 2010 David Torrance, a Tory journalist, wrote a biography entitled Salmond: Against the Odds (whose subject mildly remarked ‘I had never realised that my life was so dull’). The book’s main deficiency lay in judging by banal standards of political careerism a man driven by the politics of ideas for nationalism and against war. In default of understanding, Mr Torrance hung his argument around Mr Salmond’s enjoyment of horse-racing, taking this for the clue to what makes him tick. (The same error applied to political behaviourist judgment on another enthusiast for the turf, Labour’s Robin Cook, whose politics were also heavily ideological as he showed by resigning from the Blair cabinet in opposition to its joining Dubya Bush’s war in Iraq.) Another Tory, Michael Portillo, borrowed the Torrance thesis when making a TV film in 2011 so that he could explain to viewers that Mr Salmond’s gambling on race-horses accounted for his failure to win re-election as First Minister; Mr Portillo had hastily to turn tail with new TV topping when Mr Salmond was actually re-elected, and with an overall majority. In recent weeks Ms Sturgeon has used the same silly slander against her old boss, and apart from its ingratitude it is deplorable that so great a national leader as herself should lower her elegant rhetoric in this way. If she stoops to questioning Mr Salmond’s ideological credentials, she invites the same cynical devaluation of hers.
THE KING MUST DIE!
Civil war among nationalists whether violent or non-violent is endemic. It used to be said that the first item in an Irish political agenda was the split. SNP is and always has been non-violent and as such has saved Scotland from the tragedy of twentieth-century Ireland, but Irish constitutional nationalism led by Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) and Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) had offered valuable instruction in the politics of non-violent nationalism in the UK, and Mr Salmond studied Parnell’s career and lectured on him by invitation at Parnell’s ancestral house in Avondale, Co. Wicklow. Parnell’s political career was shattered in his last year by bitter intra-party hostilities where a majority of his former lieutenants rejected him when a divorce action found him guilty as co-respondent. Irish politics were so badly poisoned by the conflict that constitutional nationalism atrophied and was superseded by violent revolution a quarter-century after Parnell’s death. SNP leaders have followed Ms Sturgeon in attacking Mr Salmond, and their actions are destructive of the cause of Scottish independence, as the diatribes against Parnell eroded Irish non-violent nationalism. However noble they imagine their conduct, the mutually embattled nationalists are giving aid and comfort to Mr Boris Johnson.
PUTIN’S INVASION OF SCOTLAND
One ancient Unionist method is to slander nationalist leaders by accusations of treacherous behaviour on foreign affairs. Thus in World War 2, SNP were accused of pro-Nazism and some of those whose pacifism prevented their accepting conscription led to their imprisonment during and after the war, the classicist Douglas Young and Hugh MacDiarmid’s son Michael Grieve among them. Today Mr Salmond’s TV programme on Russian television has produced comparable denunciation initially from Union-Jackbooted
Tories and Liberal Democrats but now also from their SNP dupes. It also has its Biblical precedent, when the enemies of Jesus accuse him of treason against the Roman Empire.
Mr Salmond (wrote the Guardian’s Severin Carroll on 8 April 2021) ‘has been accused of being an apologist for Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime after refusing to say whether Moscow was to blame for the Salisbury poisonings in 2018’. Mr Salmond has neither information nor responsibility in the matter, any more than you or I do. Mr Putin or his underlings with or without his knowledge may have been responsible for the Salisbury poisonings. So may some foolishness in the nearby UK chemical warfare establishment. So might the Trump regime. So might exiled Russian plutocrats anxious to embitter UK relations with Mr Putin. Mr Putin’s word is worth little, but neither are the words of UK or US officials in such a context. Anything Vladimir or Boris may say deserves the famous Mandy Rice-Davies answer: ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?’ The former UK national security adviser Lord Ricketts obliged the Guardian with his judgment: ‘There is no shadow of a doubt that this was the Russian state, and no shred of evidence it could have been anyone else’. The noble lord doth protest too much. If he himself had the shadow of a doubt on the matter, would he ever admit it, any more than Mr Putin would? They say what they think their positions require. Mr Salmond’s agnosticism is obviously truthful. The Rt Hon. Alistair Carmichael MP (Liberal Democrat) accused Mr Salmond of having been ‘spinning Russian propaganda lines’ ever since he began his stint on Russian TV, answerable more truthfully by saying that since he became Secretary of State for Scotland under the Tories Mr Carmichael has been spouting Tory propaganda lines (or lies). Mr Salmond ‘denied the Russians had meddled in the 2014 independence referendum’, continued Severin Carroll. ‘Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which includes an SNP MP (Stewart Hosie of Dundee East), said last July: “there has been credible open source commentary suggesting Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the referendum in 2014”.’ This may mean no more than that a Russian stood a vodka to a Brit and hoped the Scots would vote against or for independence (the former more likely since the Russians dislike small independent regimes, especially those on their peripheries likely to be heartened by SNP propaganda). What effect was this undertaking supposed to have had? Admittedly Prime Minister David Cameron in 2014 was bribing heaven and hell to get statements from foreign powers deploring Scottish independence, but unless he requested one from Mr Putin, what was wrong with Mr Salmond’s rejoinder to claims of ‘Anybody who analysed the evidence that was suggested would think it laughable’?
OUR ENEMY LIES THERE, NOT HERE!
The Guardian had evidently combed the dump in vain, save for a reaction from Stewart McDonald MP (Glasgow South): ‘Even Russians believe that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning that resulted in the murder of Dawn Sturgess. That Alex Salmond can’t see or say that plainly shows how remarkably low he has sunk.’ This might seem to resemble anti-Parnellite scurrilities of 1891, but its main interest lies in Mr McDonald’s having been decorated by the Ukraine in 2019. Scottish Nationalists do a service to the national cause in showing fraternity and winning honours from most other nations, the smaller the better. Mr McDonald is at war with Mr Salmond because it is the nearest he thinks he can reach to punishing Mr Putin. But on any reasonable nationalist interpretation the mutual respect of all non-violent nationalists is desirable, if Scotland is to be released from the crushing weight of payment for Mr Boris Johnson’s megadeath weaponry. In place of Mr Johnson’s yearning to be acknowledged the supreme potential killer of all humankind, Scottish nationalism must seek a society to preserve and enhance life. If it is to succeed it must end self-harm. To succeed, Scottish nationalists must work together for independence and rejection of weapons of mass destruction, and forget their divisions until after May 6.