The Irish Times view on the Scottish National Party: a high-stakes row

The falling out between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond is a real threat to the party’s fortunes and perhaps to the independence project itself

The bitter falling out between Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond, long a lurid sideshow in Edinburgh, has become a real threat to the Scottish National Party's (SNP) political fortunes and perhaps to the independence project itself. Sturgeon will answer questions on Wednesday from a parliamentary committee about what she knew about sexual harassment complaints against Salmond in 2018 and her role in an investigation into them that was later found to be unlawful and biased.

Salmond gave an assured performance before the same committee, alleging that the first minister misled parliament about what she knew and when. Irish barrister and former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) James Hamilton is conducting a separate inquiry into whether she broke the ministerial code. Salmond was acquitted last year on 13 counts of sexual assault and he claims that he was the victim of a malicious effort by senior figures in the Scottish government, the civil service and the SNP to destroy his reputation. Sturgeon has dismissed the claims as baseless conspiracy theories but Salmond's evidence last Friday raised specific questions about her conduct and that of her associates which she will have to address when she appears before the committee.

Salmond’s allegations have turned the spotlight on the concentration of power around the SNP leadership and the nature of the entanglement between the party, the government and the civil service. A poll at the weekend recorded a fall in support for the SNP, although the party remains on course to win an overall majority in May’s Scottish parliament elections.

Sturgeon is Scotland’s most popular politician by a distance and her leadership has been central to the rise in support for the SNP and for independence. Her forced resignation over her conduct in this affair would greatly weaken the independence cause and her appearance before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday will be an important moment for herself, her party and perhaps for Scotland’s future.