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‘Believe’

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Alex Salmond has launched a judicial review of the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against him. The first few days after the news broke were marked by a curious reticence on the part of both the commentariat and the political establishment in Scotland. We can speculate as to the causes, although I think both shock that a colossus such as Salmond could be struck down by the #MeToo movement, and a complete lack of surprise about what insiders whispered was ‘an open secret’, played their paradoxical parts. Doubtless there was also a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’ for some people; and for the other political parties, a fear that #MeToo might open the door on their own skeletons. One party even told some of its councillors to refrain from commenting on the allegations on social media because Salmond was so litigious.

Since then Salmond has prosecuted a consummate social media campaign, seizing the agenda and casting himself as the victim of an ‘unfair’ process, as his hashtag #forFairness proclaims. He also aligned himself and his fate unequivocally with the independence movement. At the end of a statement, posted on Twitter, in which he resigned from the SNP to avoid causing ‘substantial internal division’ and launched a crowdfunder to pay for the judicial review, he wrote: ‘It is a rare thing to be devoted to a cause more important than any individual, it is a rare thing to cherish it and my intention now – as it has always been – is to protect and sustain that cause.’

The crowdfunder was spectacularly successful, crashing through its £50,000 target a few hours after its launch and prompting Salmond to close it when it hit £100,000. No one thought it was about the money – judicial reviews are prohibitively expensive, but not for a celebrity politician with five pensions and a media career. It was about the message it sent.

The message wasn’t just for Salmond’s former protégée Nicola Sturgeon, who signed off the code that prompted the original allegations, and has repeatedly reacted to Salmond’s complaints by stressing that the allegations must be dealt with ‘without fear or favour, regardless of the seniority of the person involved’.

It wasn’t just for Leslie Evans, the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, responsible for investigating the allegations against Salmond, and the subject, according to the general secretary of the association of the UK’s senior civil servants, of ‘nasty, vindictive and deliberate’ attacks by the former first minister.

And it wasn’t just for the two women who made the allegations in January, both reportedly civil servants, one still in post, the other not, who must already have been quaking at the outpouring of misogynist bile on social media.

Salmond’s crowdfunder was, as commentators across the political spectrum agreed by the end of the weekend, a vulgar and intimidatory display of power aimed at anyone minded to challenge him. First and foremost, though, it’s aimed at women – from Nicola Sturgeon down to anyone else who might have been thinking of making an allegation. The first minister recognised this when she spoke to the BBC about Salmond’s actions last Thursday: ‘Whatever any of us do and say in the context of this very high-profile case, we must absolutely make sure we don’t make it harder for – or discourage – women from coming forward in the future.’ She then tweeted a Women’s Aid fundraiser.

For the moment, the jury is out on whether Salmond has dodged a fate as Scotland’s Harvey Weinstein. The condemnation of his crowdfunder and the determination of his successor to stand her ground notwithstanding, no further complainants have come forward – or not publicly. Even telling anecdotes – the flotsam and jetsam of commentary – have been strangely absent, beyond one from an ex-aide about his ‘fierce temper’.

So I will end with two of my own. In 2014 I attended the SNP autumn conference in Perth where Salmond formally handed over the reins to Nicola Sturgeon. I was there as a lobbyist on the stand of Scotland Against Spin, an organisation committed to reform of the Scottish government’s wind energy policy. You would never have guessed that Salmond and the SNP had just lost the independence referendum, such was the celebration and optimism, focused above all on the leader who was treated like a rock star. When Salmond began his traditional promenade through the charities’ and lobbyists’ stands, women swirled around him, desperate for selfies, embraces, kisses, with the great man happily obliging. As he approached our stand, I shrank back but my colleague stepped forward to question him on current wind policy. Laughing, he swept her up into his arms and kissed her on the lips, before proclaiming his unstinting support for unbridled wind development, and processing on to the next stand.

My second anecdote is secondhand and dates from a couple of years earlier, when I met a senior member of the Scottish Labour Party, who agreed with me about the incoherence of the SNP’s flagship policy of turning Scotland into the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. He described how he had once confronted Salmond about the policy, arguing that it was impossible on engineering, energy-systems and financial grounds. Salmond had looked deep into his eyes, called him by name and said: ‘Believe. You just have to believe.’

Comments

  1. stacemeister says:

    A strange, gossipy, inconsequential, malicious article. Even stranger for the LRB to commission a Scottish Tory councillor and vehement lobbyist against wind farms to write it.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I think you’re saying that someone’s account of an encounter with a politician is suspect if they had a motive for their encounter — which would tend to exclude most accounts!

      • stacemeister says:

        I don’t think I am saying that. I am just saying that full disclosure enables the reader to make up his or her mind on the article. In none of her 3 articles on the blog does she reveal her politics, and in the first one you might infer that she wasn’t a Tory. Do look at the website for Scotland against Spin and ask whether it is merely seeks “reform of the Scottish government’s wind energy policy”. The “encounter” is of no relevance or interest at all, unless she is asking us to think that (a) Salmond (shock horror!) kissed someone on the lips in public, and (b) that means he must be a disreputable character and therefore etc etc. Poor stuff, LRB.

  2. Stu Bry says:

    I’m used to seeing #HashtagActivism hijacked to promote consumerism but this is the first time I’ve seen it being used to attack sustainable energy.

  3. Amateur Emigrant says:

    Could the author kindly point us to the ‘outpouring of misogynist bile on social media’? Forgive my cynicism, but this is a familiar anti-SNP trope which almost invariably proves to be as substantial as Scotch mist.

  4. Amateur Emigrant says:

    I might add that the author imitates the mass of the (almost entirely hostile) Scottish media in conflating Salmond’s challenge to the Scottish Government’s investigation process and the complaint against him by the two women. Seeking a judicial review on the process (which so far has denied Salmond any detail about the alleged offences) is not an attack on the right of any woman to bring a complaint of abuse. The LRB has published several articles highlighting the denial of access to prosecution evidence to terrorism suspects. If that is an injustice, why should it be acceptable in any other circumstance? The author’s whole purpose is to insinuate guilt on Salmond’s part, before a word of evidence has been heard.

    Finally, a Tory councillor enlisting ‘a senior member of the Scottish Labour Party’ as a fellow enemy of incoherence is an irony too delicious to let pass.

  5. Ouessante says:

    Oh dear. What a nasty piece of social media flashmob abuse. Clearly, LRB has joined the ranks of those who have abandoned the rule of law and due process with innocence until proven guilty for no ‘smoke without fire’ snide insinuations, ‘serves him right for being a white male’ hatred and the descent into tribal warfare that will pull Western liberal democratic institutions down around our ears, to their opponents delight. I had you out to be better than this. I was wrong. You’ve sunk a long way.

  6. Joe Morison says:

    I lost my capacity to be surprised by public figures’ sexual misconduct once Rolf Harris was exposed. Nevertheless, there does seem some tension between “what insiders whispered was ‘an open secret’” and “Even telling anecdotes […] have been strangely absent”.

  7. deMan says:

    “You just have to believe.” Well, I have no strong feelings about Salmond, but I don’t “believe” that vindictive opinion piece was worthy of being published.

  8. stacemeister says:

    In the light of all these comments and the absence of anyone justifying the piece, will the editor of the blog give consideration to the removal of the article?

  9. henry holland says:

    I disagree with stacemeister’s calls for the article to be removed; but add my voice to those of several individuals above criticizing the post’s rotten journalistic standards. It would be appropriate for the LRB blog’s editor to, at the very least, respond to the justified criticism of these. What’s going on with Holt’s attempts to cast herself as a progressive when talking about her past involvement in Scottish politics, when she was actually an anti-wind energy, anti-Scottish-indy lobbyist, representing a group that shared and shares political interests with Big Business Nuclear and other non-renewables, on a European level? Why is Holt allowed to smear Salmond without the hint of even a shred of evidence – Holt fabricates, attempting to communicate fictious genera opinion, regrading “a complete lack of surprise about what insiders whispered was ‘an open secret’,”? – other than that both she knows, and the LRB blog editor knows, that if you’ve ever wanted to smear Salmond & get away with it, now’s the time to get your boot in. Which copy editor allowed ‘an open secret’ to be put in scare quotes? Quotation marks that allow Holt to pretend that she’s actually quoting someone. Even if the editor had insisted that Holt provided the information about which “insiders” were meant – in the SNP? in Scottish Labour? Scottish govt. civil servants? – journalistic standards would have been raised slightly.
    If the LRB blog editor is in the least interested in impartiality in their coverage of Scottish politics, they should now commission a post from a pro-independence feminist. From someone against every form of sexual harassment and assualt against women, from someone committed to getting these crimes reported and also brought to prosecutions: but not someone with a vsested intrest in instrumentalizing a horrible situation, affecting real people; someone rubbing their hands at Salmond’s public cruxcifiction.

  10. Cloverleaf says:

    I rather enjoyed this blog. And the hilarious protests about it. Thank you, LRB, keep up the good work.


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