Alex Salmond will need to overcome the opposition of influential figures in the SNP if he wants to rejoin the party after being cleared of sexual assault charges, it was claimed yesterday.
He stood down from the party he once led two years ago after allegations of sexual misconduct became public, vowing to rejoin “as soon as I have had the opportunity to clear my name”.
On Monday, the former First Minister was cleared of all sexual assault charges against him after a two-week criminal trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.
But yesterday the prospect of Mr Salmond attempting to rejoin the SNP prompted warnings of opposition from senior figures within the party who believe his behaviour towards women who worked for him, as detailed in court, while not criminal should still mean he is barred from the party.
The warnings came as the nine women who accused him in court issued a joint statement condemning his behaviour, after his lawyer had described it as “trivial”.
They said: “The behaviours that Alex Salmond and his defence team admitted to in evidence were not and are not trivial. Today we want to send a strong and indisputable message that such behaviours should not be tolerated – by any person, in any position, under any circumstances.”
The women said many of them did not speak up at the time because they had no confidence procedures in place would properly deal with their complaints while some feared professional repercussions.
The women, supported by Rape Crisis Scotland, said they had been “devastated” by the verdict but said they hoped their decision to speak out would encourage a change in Scotland’s workplaces where “for too long perpetrators in positions of power have been shielded by their ability to influence and intimidate”.
However, Mr Salmond’s supporters have questioned how the party and the Scottish Government handled the complaints against him and suggested there was a concerted attempt to use the claims to sabotage his return to frontline politics.
He claims to have emails suggesting a conspiracy against him and intends to hold those he blames to account when Holyrood inquiries begin after the coronavirus crisis. Observers predict Mr Salmond’s stated intention could threaten the future of successor Nicola Sturgeon and potentially split his party.
One informed party source said the former First Minister’s readmission to the party would cause ructions even before the inquiries begin.
He said: “By his own admission and directly from the mouth of his own defence advocate, Mr Salmond acted wholly inappropriately with young women for whom he had a duty of care. These admissions would have serious consequences for anyone behaving in such a manner in every single workplace across Scotland.
“That Mr Salmond’s behaviour took place in Bute House while he was First Minister only serves to compound the problem.”
Another senior SNP source said: “Any future application to rejoin would be very difficult for the party and its wider membership to deal with. The court has shown he is an innocent man but the case has raised questions about his conduct.
“It is clear that the way the case has played out in public that any application to rejoin would be difficult and contentious and pose huge problems for the party at large in trying to reconcile two groups with different views on a very serious and high-profile issue.”
On Monday, the jury of eight women and five men found him not guilty on 12 counts of sexual assault and reached a not proven verdict on one count of intent to rape.
After his acquittal, some of Mr Salmond’s allies predicted a political comeback for the man who led the SNP for 20 years, seven of them as First Minister. Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil described him as “a man with much more to contribute to Scotland’s cause”.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP’S Westminster home affairs spokesman, said he must be allowed to rejoin the SNP “without delay” and East Lothian MP and former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill should “of course” be readmitted.
Philippa Whitford, the SNP’s health spokesperson at Westminster, said on Friday Mr Salmond should be “free to return to politics and return to the SNP if that is his wish”.
But SNP equalities convener Fiona Robertson, who sits on the committee that would decide on Mr Salmond’s readmission, tweeted after the verdict that “legal or not, sexual relationships between very senior figures and much younger junior staff are, thankfully, now recognised as deeply inappropriate because of power difference, even if technically consensual”.
She added: “We still have a duty to look at the behaviour discussed in court which is not criminal in nature but is still of concern, as it would be in any workplace.”
Mr Salmond’s 45-year membership came to an end in August 2018 when he resigned after sexual harassment complaints were made public. He said it was his “absolute intention to reapply for SNP membership just as soon as I have had the opportunity to clear my name”.
He said at the time he “truly loved” the SNP and wanted to prevent “substantial internal division” that suspending him from the party would cause. But the following January he accused his successor Nicola Sturgeon of “rewriting history” after his role in the SNP was removed from the party’s website.
Mr Salmond’s readmission would be decided by the SNP’s National Executive Committee, whose members include Ms Sturgeon and Ms Robertson. He declined to comment yesterday on plans for a potential political comeback. But a source close to his team said he will pursue answers on what he believes was a concerted campaign against him orchestrated from the most senior levels of the Scottish Government.
Before he was charged, Mr Salmond won £512,000 from the Scottish Government to pay for his legal costs after he successfully claimed its internal inquiry into the claims of sexual misconduct, overseen by Scotland’s most senior civil servant, Leslie Evans, had been botched.
The source said: “Suing the Scottish Government is an option. He felt Leslie Evans’s comment that ‘we may have lost the battle but we will win the war’ showed there was an agenda being pursued by the permanent secretary.
“The chances of Alex returning to politics are slim, but it would be wrong to rule it out completely for Alex, who has proved more than once that he is the comeback king.”
The women: This must end
The nine women who accused Alex Salmond in court yesterday issued a joint statement. This is part of it.
We are devastated by the verdict. However it is our fervent hope that as a society we can move forward in our understanding of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
In defending Alex Salmond, Gordon Jackson quoted Woman H and said his client should have been a “better man”. He said behaviour which others described as demeaning, intimidating and humiliating, was “trivial”.
The behaviours that Alex Salmond and his defence team admitted to in evidence were not and are not trivial…
Today we want to send a strong and indisputable message that such behaviours should not be tolerated – by any person, in any position, under any circumstances…
The outcome of this trial will pose many questions and be cause for much debate…For too long, behaviour which should be condemned has been accepted and excused.
For too long perpetrators in positions of power have been shielded by their ability to influence and intimidate.
For too long women’s complaints have been dismissed or swept under the carpet.
And for too long, women have been let down by organisational structures which should exist to protect them, not put them in situations which endanger their welfare. This must end…
Woman A, Woman B, Woman C, Woman D, Woman F, Woman, G, Woman H, Woman J, Woman K
In response to the women’s joint statement, a spokesman for the former First Minister said: “Mr Salmond was acquitted on all charges by a jury of nine women and six men after hearing all the evidence in a two-week trial.
“He made a statement on the steps of the High Court and said that he would make no further public comment on these matters until after the coronavirus crisis was over.”