The Salmond scandal won’t save the Union from the SNP

Brian Monteith
Alex Salmond Holds Press Conference Regarding Sexual Harassment Allegations
What does or does not happen in a Bute House bedroom can never be the basis for maintaining or breaking the United Kingdom (Source: Getty)

There are quite a few people cheering from the aisles following the revelations that Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader and first minister of Scotland for seven years, is being investigated by police after complaints were made against him alleging inappropriate sexual behaviour by two civil servants.

I suggest that people drop the schadenfreude and display some caution. It’s more classy for a start.

We should also remember that Salmond remains innocent until proven guilty and that the only evidence we have had thus far has been leaked to a tabloid.

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The Daily Record might be a participant in the court of Scottish public opinion, but it’s hardly an unbiased dispassionate witness.

While the legal process is playing out, we are only hearing one side of the story, so the hope of some – that Salmond is found culpable and the cause of Scottish independence will be mortally wounded for a generation – is misplaced wishful thinking. For the fate of Salmond will not and must not determine whether or not Scotland remains in the UK.

If there is a second independence referendum, those who have supported the nationalist cause will not be put off by the fate of the former leader, no matter how embarrassing or sordid it turns out to be.

Given the chance of another vote, those wishing to leave the UK will not stay at home because of anything Salmond may or may not have done. To believe otherwise is naive in the extreme.

More importantly, for Scots who believe that they are British too, it is important that independence is defeated for being an unfriendly, divisive and economically catastrophic idea wholly lacking in merit – other than some romantic nostalgia for times when witches were burnt at the stake and cattle rustling from neighbours was seen as heroic.

Defending Scotland’s full participation in the success of the UK has to be about the positives that come from the social and economic dividend of being a common people with a shared history, who are mutually supportive of each other whether times are tough or easy.

It must be about being able to achieve more together than less once apart. It must be about our common interests in defence, economic opportunity, and cultural creativity.

What does or does not happen in a Bute House bedroom can never be the basis for maintaining or breaking the United Kingdom.

And make no mistake, the Union is still under threat, regardless of the potential schism within the SNP.

The question is not whether the nationalists would fight their hardest, even with Salmond causing trouble, if granted another shot at a referendum – we know they would.

Rather, we need to ask if a second independence referendum is possible at all – and the combination of Brexit mismanagement and the ambivalence of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should raise red flags.

If the Prime Minister fails to withdraw her almost universally disparaged Chequers plan and forces her party into a leadership contest, this would throw both the Conservatives and the country into turmoil.

Were Theresa May to triumph and lead the Tories into the next election clutching the Chequers plan like a drowning man clutches a straw, there is a real chance that Corbyn could win. The latest polling from Global Britain of the top 44 Conservative marginals shows all of those seats, be they held by Remainers or Leavers, could be lost.

The possibility is then raised that Corbyn could be elected Prime Minister, and promptly cut a deal with the SNP. He may not have the wherewithal, the wit, or even the desire to deny the SNP that second referendum they so covet – indeed, he may in fact need their support to form a government, and we know what the trade would be.

In such circumstances, I would have no faith in Corbyn to defend the UK, especially after his invisible performance in the EU referendum. He is a man who has on practically every other occasion supported the UK’s enemies – why would he be a successful combatant on our behalf on this occasion?

This scenario would present a genuine threat that the SNP campaign could win.

Any past falling out between Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond would be put behind the party, and the campaign would be far more bitterly fought than last time.

Make no mistake, the SNP is divided between supporters of Sturgeon and Salmond, but this will not weaken the resolve of either camp. They will become a tag team, if and when required.

No, the threat to the Union remains May’s stubbornness in persevering with Chequers, and Corbyn continuing to lead the Labour party.

No complaints against Salmond, however genuine, and no amount of titillation in the tabloids can change those realities.

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