Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

ALEX BELL: Will the messy aftermath of the Salmond farrago clear the way for a Labour comeback?

Post Thumbnail

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.

Watching the First Minister give evidence to the Holyrood committee into the botched investigation of Alex Salmond, it appeared the truth would never out.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking the oath before giving evidence to the Holyrood committee examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

Sir Walter Scott’s words came to mind, not because anyone set out to lie, but because too many had reckoned honesty was not the best policy from the beginning.

There are too many vested interests and old relationships at stake. A cabal of senior party people and special advisers, former and current, found themselves presuming they could manage a story, as per usual, but discovering that they weren’t as smart as they thought.

This one would not be managed away and it looks like no one will take responsibility.

In Scotland the effect of #MeToo has been to make it even harder for victims of sexual misconduct to trust the system.

In a healthy democracy Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, would have resigned for failing the victims and the first minister.

Leslie Evans
Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans gives evidence to the Holyrood committee examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond. Photo: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire

Liz Lloyd would have been long gone for being really bad at her job, which is to protect the First Minister.

Geoff Aberdein might have begun to see he’s not Batman, but Robin.

But you’ll note none of the above characters are elected. A big lesson of the imbroglio is that actual politicians have little effect on how Scotland is run. It’s time the people, via the parliament, took back control.

Power to the people: but will this change votes?

The question now is how much will the scandal around the Salmond allegations affect the elections in May. Will the public judge the national party to have mismanaged the nation, to be as riddled with cronyism as old Labour and southern Tories? Or will the rules of political inertia take over, where Scottish voters are slow to change?

A large number think Salmond is basically nasty and are protective of Sturgeon. There will be an emotional rally to a FM who, on balance, probably tried to do the right thing but was let down by advisers.

The counter to this is that Sturgeon’s weakness has been exposed, namely a loyalty to inept people. If she can’t get the right advice now, or lacks the courage to fire incompetent people, then what hope for her leading an independence negotiation?

However, Nat obsessives aside, I’m not persuaded many pro-Sturgeon voters actually expect her to advance independence.

It does not matter that she’s a bad character judge, because she seems to have done a decent job on Covid and she’s not Salmond or Boris.

Not being Boris Johnson remains a vote winner for Nicola Sturgeon in the eyes of many Scots.

The chances of indyref2 look remote, and even if does happen, voters will judge it on its merits, not on their affection for Nicola.

So voting SNP for some is still the socially acceptable thing to do.

Others, the fundamentalist camp, don’t really have a choice.

If they don’t vote SNP, they are sabotaging the chances of indyref2. They may hate Nicola, believe in a conspiracy and genuflect at the mention of Eck’s name, but they have yet to create a credible counter platform.

Opposition parties poised to gain from SNP’s woes

The important trends might be elsewhere. The latest polls show the SNP winning an absolute majority in May but my hunch is to bet against this.

The Salmond farrago has given voters a good reason to get out on polling day. In some ways, Sturgeon might benefit from her supporters rallying, but it’s also good for opposition parties.

Labour and the Tories now have a solid, strong argument against the SNP. Any sense that Scotland is holier than Westminster has been destroyed by the Salmond business.

A voter enters a polling station.
The Scottish Parliament election is two months away. How will the Salmond inquiry figure when voters go to the polls?D

The Nats got stuck in the tangled web, captured by their reliance on story management over transparent government. They join the public perception that all politicians are ultimately crooks.

This dilutes the potency of the Nat claim that Boris is dodgy. This diminishes a key attack line by the SNP.

Further, the reliance on a small leadership group mean the public worry there’s no one to take over from Nicola. Tell them it’s John Swinney and they’ll only laugh.

What seems most interesting in recent polls is an improvement in Labour support. In part this is from the departure of Jeremy Corbyn. Having a leader that it is impossible to imagine in high office isn’t good for popular appeal. Starmer may be dull, but he’s plausible.

Keir Starmer Boris Johnson
Dull, plausible and not Jeremy Corbyn. With Keir Starmer as national party leader can Labour expect to fare better north of the border?

It also might reflect a view among progressive voters that the SNP talk a good game but don’t deliver. That has been a hard case to make in the past, but is easier now.

A lot of voters switched in the last decade from red to Nat. They can always go back, if only to check the unaccountability of the nationalist government.

Crucially, Labour now have a clear platform. The SNP can’t be trusted.

The SNP’s success has been built on ruthless campaigning, apple pie policies and competence. Party splits undermine the campaigning force, the policies look cynical when not delivered and competence is in doubt.

Together, they were a formidable campaigning force. The breakdown in the Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond partnership means a very different political landscape for Scotland.

The political axis has shifted. It’s no longer more powers versus broken Westminster. Post the Salmond enquiry, it’s how to clean up broken Holyrood with the powers we have.

Even Scottish Labour looks capable of doing something with that, which is some achievement for the SNP.