Alex Salmond’s six-hour tour de force before a Scottish parliament committee on Friday was a vivid reminder of why this flawed and complicated figure dominated politics in Scotland for so long. A master of every detail of the labyrinthine story of the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against him, he answered every question with clarity and confidence.
When the committee's convener ruled a hostile question out of scope, Salmond would agree with her but then go on to answer it. But his outwardly calm demeanour did nothing to obscure the explosive nature of his allegations against Nicola Sturgeon and her circle or the anger that lay behind them.
“For two years and six months, this has been a nightmare. I have every desire to move on and turn the page. But the reason I’m here today is because we can’t turn that page until the decision making, which is undermining the system of government in Scotland, is addressed,” he said.
Salmond’s central allegation is that the top figures Scotland’s political and bureaucratic leadership engaged in a conspiracy to destroy his reputation with a campaign that saw him charged with serious sexual offences that could have sent him to prison for years. After he was acquitted on all counts last year, he said there was evidence he wanted to bring out into the open and Friday’s committee hearing was his chance to do so.
Much of what he said had already been reported but there was still a sharp emotional charge as Salmond read out emails exchanged between longstanding Scottish National Party (SNP) colleagues suggesting that pressure should be put on police to move against him. Politically, the most extraordinary moment came when Salmond, who led the independence movement in Scotland for decades, said the current leadership was not fit to lead the country out of the United Kingdom.
Until now, Sturgeon and her allies have dismissed Salmond’s allegations as baseless, accusing him of lacking any evidence for his claims. But he was careful on Friday to avoid making any accusations without documentary evidence, stopping short of accusing Sturgeon herself of being involved in the plot against him.
He did allege, however, that she broke the ministerial code by misleading parliament about what she knew about the complaints against him. This question is the subject of a separate investigation led by Irish barrister James Hamilton.
Salmond is now a deeply unpopular figure in Scotland while Sturgeon is the country’s most popular politician by far. But the strength of Salmond’s performance on Friday and the gravity of his allegations means that as she prepares to face the committee next Wednesday, the first minister is in greater peril than ever before.