Politics, Russia, Security, UK

Alex Salmond’s Moral Corruption

Corruption in government is usually thought of, and investigated, as the appropriation of public funds for private purposes. There are, however, other kinds, and the case of Alex Salmond’s leadership displays two of these vividly. One is the menacing nature of his rule and personal conduct while leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister. The other is the propagandistic extremes to which his hatred of Britain has driven him.

Salmond led the Scottish National Party from 1990 to 2000, before relinquishing the post to his deputy, John Swinney, for four years. When Swinney failed to sustain the party’s momentum, Salmond returned to lead it again in 2004. Three years later, when the SNP won the Scottish parliamentary elections, Salmond took the post of First Minister. Since then, his party has dominated Scots politics, reducing the once hegemonic Scottish Labour Party to third place behind the Scottish Conservative Party, itself a distant second. Salmond resigned in 2014, having failed to convince Scots to vote for independence in a referendum that same year. But the SNP still enjoys a majority in the Scottish parliament, and the support of the Scottish Green Party. Of the 59 seats for Scottish MPs in the Westminster parliament, the SNP has 47.

But electoral success has provided cover for personal malfeasance. During the 18th century, Scots economist Adam Smith sketched a framework for understanding political actors like the former First Minister. In his 1759 work Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote that “the propriety of our moral sentiments is never so apt to be corrupted as when the indulgent and partial spectator is at hand, while the indifferent and impartial one is at a great distance.” Salmond in power had many indulgent and partial spectators—in Scotland and beyond, especially in the English far-Left; in his party and in the parliament; and in his government and among the civil servants who administered its business. Those critics who were “indifferent and impartial” were dismissed or attacked by aggressive nationalist netizens.

In 2019, Salmond was charged with 14 offences against 10 women, a mixture of civil servants and SNP officials. The charges were one attempted rape, one attempt to rape, 10 sexual assaults, and two indecent assaults. On March 23rd, a jury of eight women and five men found Salmond not guilty on all charges save one, on which they agreed a verdict of “not proven.” In Scots law, this result means, in effect, that the jury thinks the accused may be guilty, but that there is insufficient proof to justify conviction.

In a statement after the trial, Salmond said that when the coronavirus epidemic subsided, he would demand a full inquiry into the case, which his supporters say was confected by his enemies within the party, led by First Minister and Salmond’s former deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. A season of internecine war is confidently predicted as soon as normal political life can be decently resumed. Salmond walked from the court a free man; even the “not proven” verdict leaves no stain on his innocence. Nevertheless, the trial revealed an administration that, under Salmond’s leadership, was bullying, frightening, and unchecked.

Brian Wilson, a Scottish Office minister during the years of New Labour government wrote in the Scotsman on March 27th that:

Salmond ran a regime based on bombast and bullying in which all lines which should separate politicians from civil servants were abandoned. It was an ethos which permeated every corner of Scottish life. Challenge it and you feared for your job or funding or prospects of patronage. Seek to expose it and the phone would soon ring, early in the morning or late at night. The cadre had its enforcers. The civil service needed a leader who would stand up to Salmond. Instead, it had Sir Peter Housden who, on arrival as a cast-out from Whitehall, found refuge in becoming a cheerleader, no questions asked.

The women plaintiffs, who were not named in court and cannot be named now, issued a statement on March 29th, saying they were “devastated” by the judgement. They wrote that:

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.

Many of us did speak up at the time of our incidents but were faced with procedures that could not deal with complaints against such a powerful figure. Others were silenced by fear of repercussions. It was our hope, as individuals, that through coming forward at this time we could achieve justice and enact change.

We remain firm in our belief that coming forward to report our experiences and concerns was the right thing to do. But it is clear we alone cannot achieve the change we seek.

In a lucid column for the Times the same day, the commentator Alex Massie wrote that “it took some courage for many of the women involved in this case to come forward with allegations. Declaring, in effect, ‘This was my story about the most powerful man in the country. Make of it what you will,’ takes some bravery, not least since doing so invites pitiless scrutiny of your own actions. No wonder so many of the complainers confessed to feeling embarrassed or mortified, or in some sense all but ashamed; no wonder they said they did all they could to bury their experiences, the better to move on and pretend nothing had happened.”

Susan Dalgetty, a journalist and former communications advisor to Jack McConnell, Labour First Minister from 2001 to 2007, wrote in the Scotsman on March 27th of her induction into governmental staff work by the then Permanent Secretary, who told her that “My door is always open… Any problems, any behaviour that makes you uncomfortable, any unreasonable requests, come straight to me.” She added that “it is clear that Alex Salmond regarded the ministerial code with the same cavalier disrespect he had for many of the female civil servants and advisers who were unlucky enough to come into his orbit.”

Dalgetty and Wilson will probably be branded as biased political opponents—former functionaries for a Scottish Labour Party which the SNP has all but destroyed. Less easily so dismissed is Gordon Jackson, Salmond’s main defence lawyer, Scotland’s most senior QC and Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. On March 29th, the Sunday Times reported that Jackson, in conversation on a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, had been videoed by a fellow passenger as saying that “I don’t know much about senior politicians, but he [Salmond] was quite an objectionable bully to work with… I think he was a nasty person to work for… a nightmare to work for.” The report says that he “appears to say” that Salmond could be seen as “a sex pest, but he’s not charged with that.” He also named two of the women who brought the charges, and spoke of one “in disparaging terms.” In a follow-up report in the Times, Jackson denied calling Salmond a “sex pest” and has referred the incident to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The anonymous women may or may not be alone when the Salmond affair returns to life once the coronavirus crisis recedes, although it is likely to have a subterranean existence from now on. Salmond has powerful backers in the party, such as the SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, the Western Isles MP Angus McNeil, and the commentator Kenny MacAskill. Cherry is seeking the party nomination for Edinburgh Central, the Scottish parliament seat presently occupied by former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is expected to stand down at the next election, due in May 2021. She is opposed in the fight for the nomination by Angus Robertson, a former leader (2007 – 2017) of the SNP group in Westminster. Robertson is a strong supporter of Nicola Sturgeon, and the two contenders illuminate the main split in the party, which can be expected to widen.

The strong support of Cherry, McNeil, and MacAskill is surprising from leading members of a party which had prided itself on fidelity to human and civil rights, and correct behaviour in public office. The sharpest criticism of Salmond’s attitudes in power came from his former speechwriter, Alex Bell, son of Dr Colin Bell, a former vice chairman of the SNP and later rector of Aberdeen University. Alex has some form in this: He has been a constant critic of SNP economic and financial policies, writing in an essay in 2014 that “the idea that you could have a Scotland with high public spending, low taxes, a stable economy, and reasonable government debt… is deluded.” He remains, however, a supporter of its policy of independence.

In his regular column in the (Dundee) Courier, Bell called his former boss “sleazy” and “a creep,” and judges that “Salmond is driven by a core insecurity which is compensated for by a determination to defeat all comers… he will not step back. He’d rather win the argument than be right. Though the two may be confused in his mind.” Since that is the case, he will attempt to reveal that there was a conspiracy in the SNP leadership, run by Sturgeon and her circle to reveal him as a sexual predator, a project which has now failed.

Judged innocent of these charges, in part through Jackson’s inspired defending, Salmond nevertheless stands morally culpable in his present employment. He began presenting a weekly show in November 2017, broadcast on the Russian channel RT on Thursdays. He frequently uses it to showcase Scots nationalist figures: One transmitted on March 5th, a little before his trial began, featured MacAskill discussing a new book, and the former SNP MP and economist George Kerevan.

RT, which promotes itself as telling the truth other channels avoid or are forbidden to broadcast, is part of the large Russian disinformation system. As Pema Levy wrote in the US magazine Mother Jones in October last year:

Propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik which target Americans with English language content, provide a clear view of Russian messaging on the Ukraine scandal… they present a picture of a propaganda machine working to exonerate Trump, condemn former Vice President Joe Biden, and spread doubt about the trustworthiness of American government. The particulars of the Ukraine scandal make a natural fit for the Kremlin’s playbook for destabilising Western democracies: sowing distrust of authority and turning corruption into a “both sides” problem, encouraging citizens to resign themselves to grift and propaganda.

The attempted, and nearly successful poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March 2018 has popped up from time to time on RT, at first to be rubbished as an attempt by the government of the then PM Theresa May to unjustly tarnish Russia. The channel reported the charge made by Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, who suggested that it was a “false flag” event staged by the British intelligence services. More recently, it has, with weary worldliness, suggested that it’s best to “rebuild ties and move on.”

Promotion to stardom on RT requires a strong stomach. Eva Bartlett, a Canadian journalist who is a featured commentator on the channel, is used to show that Russia is seeking to bring the civil war in Syria to a humane end, and to dismiss Western journalism and investigations as lies. A recent report on the UN-mandated International Commission of Inquiry into the Syrian Arab Republic is presented as part of “deliberate disinformation that is halting the eradication of terrorism in Idlib.” On March 2nd, the New York Times reported, quoting the results of a UN panel of inquiry, that Russian fighter aircraft had engaged in “indiscriminate attacks” on Idlib, causing at least 43 deaths.

Salmond simply ignores all comment that he is morally tarnished by continuing to work for RT. Russia invaded and claimed sovereignty over the Ukrainian province of Crimea in late February, 2014. A few days later, Salmond (at this time, still First Minister) said in an interview that he admired “certain aspects” of the Russian leader, including “returning confidence” to his country, and praised his “effectiveness.” His RT salary—said to be substantial, but not revealed—is paid by a Russian state which sees the UK as one of its main opponents, and which—as elsewhere—it seeks to destabilise by manipulating its politics. In that sense, its aims coincide with Salmond’s.

Most commentators, including those who know him well, believe Salmond is set on revenge. Alex Bell’s view is that he is driven by his own insecurity into doubling down on his threats, and will not be deterred by what damage that may do to the SNP. Remarkably, he still has support—perhaps even majority support—in the Scottish National Party. Remarkably, since a successful campaign on his part would mean the replacement of Sturgeon by one of his proxies, or even by himself. And that would mean the replacement of someone broadly decent with someone manifestly indecent. Salmond’s blindness to his own gross faults of leadership, and the hatred which leads him to embrace—and receive a good wage from—the UK’s enemies, should prohibit him from again influencing, or even commanding, the politics of Scotland in the coming decade. But we can’t be sure they will.


John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. His latest book is Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot: The Great Mistake of Scottish Independence (Polity Press).

Feature image: Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh on the fourth day of his trial 12 March, 2020. Iain Masterton/Alamy Live News


  1. I have no particular interest in or deep knowledge of Scottish politics but this whole article seems deeply dubious. A man is acquitted on 13 charges but the writer chooses to focus on the 1 not proven charge and then tells us confidently that they know what the jury really thinks.
    There is some sort of terrifying regime of late night phone calls and risks to your project funding and patronage. There are conversations covertly recorded on trains, do we have complete transcripts and the identities of those responsible for these recordings, or just what certain factions think is profitable to make public ?
    Most dubious of all is the guilt by association cast upon Salmond for writing for RT. What is the logic here ? Is it that Salmond works for RT, RT works for the Kremlin and they criticized a New York Times article which said a Russian aircraft killed 43 people in Idlib ? RT works to advance Russian interests, including military interests, including military interests in Syria. The New York Times does the same for American interests, including military interests, including military interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The Russians have killed literally thousands of people in Syria why focus on these 43 ? Is it because the vast majority of the rest of them were fighting under the Black Flag of the Caliphate ?
    Is Alex Salmond morally culpable for any of this ? If the fatalities in that airstrike were 86 instead of 43 would he have been twice as culpable ?
    I am not seeing objective reporting in any of this. I am seeing a partisan political knife fight where subjective opinions are presented as objective moral conclusions.

  2. Yeah, we all saw this in America, too. #metoo “Believe All Women… But Not THAT Woman!” Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault, which means we have to believe his accuser. Except we don’t, and that slut was asking for it. Basically “rape is bad unless it’s in the interest of my political agenda to ignore it.” So sad.

    The same people who were most viciously attacking Kavanaugh are the exact same people today most viciously attacking Biden’s accuser, using ugly language that would be out of place in a locker room.

  3. This is my opinion on this.

    Same thing, if you support him, you will hear nothing against him, if you don’t, you want an investigation and think his behavior is creepy. I happen to think he’s deeply corrupt and am annoyed that the 'rona is interrupting an investigation into Biden and Ukraine, because it just sounds wrong, the various financial dealings there.

  4. Whatever our personal misgivings, we have to respect the legal foundations of trial by jury- to do otherwise is deny due process of Law- a system which is by no means perfect, but just happens to have the rather dubious distinction of being the best means, thus far, for determining guilt or innocence.

  5. I have always intensely disliked Alex Salmond. He has always seemed to me to be smug self satisfied and motivated by unspoken racism. However this article is a disgraceful smear and undermines the rule of law and the presumption of innocence. I have no personal knowledge of Alex Salmon and in any such case it is impossible to know for certain what transpired however this sort of article that assumes guilt whatever the outcome of a trial reinforces the utility of accusations of a sexual nature as a fool proof and nearly risk free method to destroy the career of a prominent man.

    The fact is that the inquiry that preceded the court case collapsed when there was clear evidence of collusion and improper conduct against Alex Salmond this alone casts a great deal of doubt on the accusations. The use of recording of gossip by Salmonds Barrister does not reflect well on the Barrister but cannot be taken as evidence of anything without a lot of knowledge of teh circumstances, context and motivations of the Barrister in the conversation. It is a strong principle that conversations with legal counsel are confidential, hearsay and gossip from this source is even more prejudicial and unfair.

    He may be a bully and he may be unpleasant to work with but he is also a man who has been found innocent and that should be the end of such accusations. The line between bullying, forcefullness and determination is in any case very subjective.

    Quillette shoud be ashamed to publish this article.

  6. Alex Salmond’s QC resigns as head of Scottish legal body after train video

    The lawyer who represented Alex Salmond in his sexual assault trial has quit as head of Scotland’s legal body after a tape recording surfaced showing him discussing the case on a train.

    As soon as a politician starts working on RT, everything is instantly clear to me about the level of his morality. But the fact that our society has become a society of voluntary snitches scares me much more than one unscrupulous politician.

    Once Sergey Dovlatov, a Soviet writer, said about Stalin’s Great Purge:
    «We endlessly curse Comrade Stalin, and, of course, for the cause. And still I want to ask - who wrote four million denunciations? Dzerzhinsky? Yezhov? Abakumov with Yagoda?
    Nothing like this. They were written by simple Soviet people.»

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions

  7. Can you develop this in more depth ? I am going to assume that your moral assessment of politicians who write for RT is negative. Does this also apply to politicians who are Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Pakistani etc. ? Does your assessment of a politicians’ morality also change when they write for outlets such as The New York Times or The Guardian ? If so why ? if not why not ?
    I’m not going to say that the channel of the broadcast doesn’t effect the message. I think the nature of the container can change the flavor of the drink, so to speak. But the substance of that drink is primary, not the label on the bottle.

  8. Another view on the matter here: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/03/jaccuse-2/
    I quote the first paragraph:
    " A 22 person team from Police Scotland worked for over a year identifying and interviewing almost 400 hoped-for complainants and witnesses against Alex Salmond. This resulted in nil charges and nil witnesses. Nil. The accusations in court were all fabricated and presented on a government platter to the police by a two prong process. The first prong was the civil service witch hunt presided over by Leslie Evans and already condemned by Scotland’s highest civil court as “unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias”. The second prong was the internal SNP process orchestrated by a group at the very top in SNP HQ and the First Minister’s Private Office. A key figure in the latter was directly accused in court by Alex Salmond himself of having encouraged a significant number of the accusers to fabricate incidents."

  9. Sorry, but you asked me a few questions, not one.

    1. The nationality of politicians interests me to a minimum extent, more precisely, does not interest me at all.
    2. If these are politicians in power, then the state they represent is of great interest to me.
    3. The channel of the broadcast acts as a message filter. Naturally, the channel is of interest to me.

    In depth…

    The Guardian and The New York Times are very specific channels. The further they go, the more they are close to Völkischer Beobachter, sorry.
    RT is exactly the same as Völkischer Beobachter, new bottle, same wine, as you said. “Völkischer” wine. Therefore, for those who want to add their own notes to the bouquet of this wine, I have a very definite attitude.

    Yours sincerely.

  10. Thank you for your reply.
    I did not know about “Völkischer Beobachter” so I spent some time investigating it. It looks like a paper only interested in Nazi (NSDAP) ideology, but was everything they printed 100% a lie ?
    RT is supported by Moscow, I am not surprised to see pro-Russian stories there. The New York Times is a paper financed and supported by American interests, and I am not surprised to read pro-American stories there. But none of that proves or dis-proves any particular the truth of any particular story they may run.
    Should an American writer be called a traitor because they have their work published by Moscow ? Should a Chinese writer be called a traitor because they have their work published by Washington ?
    Can we have an objective truth that is above Washington, Moscow and Beijing ?

  11. Let me give you the answers on the right questions:

    1. It doesn’t matter in which city or country you are published, it is important in which edition you are published.
    2. Not everything that Völkischer Beobachter published was a lie. I think they reported the correct results of soccer matches.

    If he works for RT, he either has no conscience or is a fool. In most cases, you may to use «and» instead of «or» in the previous sentence.

    Yes, we can (©), if we use common sense, ignore the most biased sources and pause for two to three days before reacting.

    The main advice! If you feel that the article is designed to provoke a certain reaction from you, do not forget that you are not Pavlov’s dog to salivate due to bell ring.

    PS. For those who don’t know, what “Pavlov’s Dog” means

  12. This is a bit of an aside, but given the Former News Paper’s recent take on America, from its founding to its present-day, I for one would be greatly surprised to read pro-American stories in the Gray (and tattered) lady.

  13. As of a few years ago, the Mexican plutocrat Carlos Slim was their largest stockholder.

  14. Again, this assertion about the NYT being “aligned” “Atlantic” is incorrect, as the Former News Paper’s recent takes on America indicate. and what does biology have to do with any of this?
    My point in the post above was that if our ideological divides really did contain geographical divides, we would have not opened up China, and the china-born population in the West would number maybe in tens, or hundreds of thousands, rather than millions. No travel to and from China, no China virus.

  15. I find this difficult to believe. It’s called JCPOA, or the Iran Nuclear Deal, that Obama penned not that long ago.

    A takeover by a violent, theocratic and socialist regime happened, took Westernerners hostage and sponsored terrorism across the globe with stolen money.

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