Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Alex Salmond’s revenge against the SNP is far from over 

Alex Salmond (Photo: Getty)

The former First Minister, Alex Salmond, is to sue Nicola Sturgeon and her former civil servants for ‘misfeasance’. In court documents today he accuses her and her officials of having ‘conducted themselves improperly, in bad faith and beyond their powers with the intention of injuring Mr Salmond’. The surprise is that it has taken him so long.  

It is nearly four years since Salmond won his judicial review against the Scottish government over its mishandling of claims of sexual misconduct. Judges in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, ruled in January 2019 that the Scottish government’s investigation into the allegations, overseen by the then-permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, had been ‘unlawful’ and ‘tainted with apparent bias’. Salmond was awarded £512,000 in costs. But he was never going to stop there – and he is now seeking £3 million in damages, according to the Herald (Salmond says it will be for the Court to determine damages once the case on misfeasance has been won. They will be significant’).

The former SNP First Minister believes he suffered ruinous reputational and financial damage from leaks to the Daily Record in August 2018 that led to the headline: ‘Alex Salmond accused of “touching woman’s breasts and bum” in boozy Bute House bedroom encounter.’  He insists that only the Scottish government could have leaked these salacious details of the complaints to the press. 

Few politicians survive headlines like that, but Salmond isn’t an ordinary politician. He was determined to clear his name and make the Scottish government pay. However, his search for compensation was rudely interrupted on 24 January 2019 when he was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted rape, nine of sexual assault, two of indecent assault, and one of breach of the peace. Bombshell was too small a word for it. This development rocked the Scottish National party to its foundations and shocked the hundreds of thousands of Scots who had voted for Salmond in successive elections. 

The subsequent court case led to even more lurid headlines as Salmond’s accusers gave evidence alleging sexual misbehaviour. However, in March 2020 Salmond was acquitted of all charges by a jury of eight women and five men. To the astonishment of his many critics in the media and politics, Salmond walked free. It was then that he promised to sue the Scottish government for damages.  

But his trial in the court of public opinion was not over. The next year, Holyrood launched an inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of the original harassment allegation. Sordid details of Salmond’s alleged misconduct were aired once again. Nicola Sturgeon, in her evidence to the special committee of MSPs declared that she’d felt ‘physically sick’ when she had heard the original allegations against her former mentor and leader back in 2018. Salmond’s detractors in the press said they could not believe that all those women were lying. 

Then, in high drama, Salmond accused Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, the then-party chief executive Peter Murrell, and others of having led a ‘deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort’ to damage his reputation and remove him from public life. He also directly accused Nicola Sturgeon’s closest aide, her chief of staff Liz Lloyd, of being an accessory to this conspiracy to have him jailed.  These allegations, vigorously denied by those accused, form the substance of his claims for ‘misfeasance’ and for £3 million in damages for loss of earnings and reputational damage.  

The cross-party Holyrood harassment inquiry reported in March 2021 that the Scottish government’s handling of the investigation was ‘seriously flawed’, though a parallel inquiry by the senior Irish lawyer, James Hamilton, concluded that Nicola Sturgeon had not broken the ministerial code.  

Some legal experts, like Dr Nick McKerrell of Glasgow Caledonian University, are sceptical about Salmond’s chances of establishing misfeasance. He must prove that civil servants and members of the Scottish government knowingly abused their power to cause harm in their investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against him in 2018. The bar is set high and all those involved have moved on.   

Nicola Sturgeon resigned in February, claiming that she no longer had the stomach for politics. Peter Murrell resigned in March after taking responsibility for the release of false SNP membership figures during the leadership campaign to replace her. Both were later arrested and questioned by Police Scotland as part of Operation Branchform into alleged misuse of party funds. No charges have been brought and both deny any wrongdoing. Liz Lloyd and Leslie Evans have left the Scottish civil service for the world of consultancy. Salmond never re-joined his old party and now leads the breakaway nationalist Alba party.   

But the former leader of the Scottish National party clearly hasn’t moved on. In a statement today Salmond’s lawyer accuses Nicola Sturgeon and public officials of ‘criminal leaking of confidential documents, the concealment of documents in defiance of court orders and a criminal warrant, the misleading of the court during judicial review proceedings, the soliciting of false criminal complaints, and ultimately the commission of perjury at a parliamentary inquiry’. Only the kitchen sink is missing from the Salmond charge sheet.  

Needless to say, Sturgeon has consistently denied taking part in any conspiracy to damage her former leader and mentor. 

But Alex Salmond, the last man standing, clearly feels he has yet to have his own day in court. 

Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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