I have long deplored the ever burgeoning number of party political hacks – of every political party – which the poor long suffering taxpayer has to stump up for. I recommend the excellent book The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne, on this and other subjects. There is an ever increasing rise in the number of SPADS. In addition, the offices of members of various parliaments are comfortably staffed both at parliament and in the constituency. Various individuals and groupings have taxpayer-funded but party appointed “Chiefs of Staff”. I have always viewed “Short money” as a constitutional abomination – the state, the poor taxpayer, should not be paying for political party machines. If the members of a party, any party, wish to try to impress their views on voters and to establish themselves in lucrative office, then the party members should fund their activity themselves. The Short money system pays for party HQ staff and machinery according to electoral success, and thus helps cement the establishment. Furthermore, there can be friction between taxpayer funded party appointees and the civil servants they work with – when I worked within the FCO, we career civil servants found SPADs an ill-informed nuisance. Plus the political patronage system can be open to abuse – remarkably, two SNP political appointees on the books of the Scottish civil service, paid for by the Scottish taxpayer, have recently without changing jobs been bumped up two whole pay grades on their taxpayer funded salary, a happening unavailable to ordinary civil servants.
Yesterday saw the continuation of the prosecution case in the Alex Salmond trial. As always, I have to write with extreme care for fear of being found in contempt of court.
The BBC is permitted to be highly selective on the aspects of the evidence it reports. Sarah Smith has been telling the camera with great emotion that an accuser referenced the Harvey Weinstein case, and has been stating with a voice full of angst that the “victim” said she did not want any of this, and swore that it is all true. Sarah Smith has done this without offering any substantial account at all of the defence’s cross examination of said witness. Sarah Smith is in no danger whatsoever of being found in contempt of court for a broadcast that reaches millions of people and is deliberately, professionally and competently designed to sway the viewers emotionally into a view of the case hostile to Alex Salmond. By contrast I, to a smaller audience, am writing with extreme circumspection, knowing the state will prosecute and probably jail me in a flash if I get one nuance wrong. So I am dependent on you reading this whole article with intelligence, and thinking “I wonder why he just told me that bit? Where was that relevant?”
It is essential to an understanding of this case, and not so far in any dispute, being fully brought out by the direct evidence of Ms A, Ms C and Ms H, that six of the accusers conferred (and I carefully used a neutral verb there) together over their accusations. Ms A yesterday denied a suggestion from the defence that she was thus involved in encouraging the accusations. We also know from Ms H’s evidence that at least two of the accusers were actively involved with SNP HQ in a plan to “sit on” the accusations until it was time to “deploy them” “if needed”, and that meant to stop Alex Salmond coming back into politics by refusing him vetting as an SNP candidate.
So it is extremely important for you to be aware that none of these accusers to date (up to end day 3) has been a career civil servant. All are SNP party figures, right at the heart of the operations of the current SNP administration. There is, in my belief, a deliberate attempt at false portrayal in the media to pass some accusers off as career civil servants in order to give an undeserved aura of impartiality and trustworthiness. Which is not in the least to allege the accusers are not trustworthy persons, just to say their trustworthiness is not avouched by career civil service status. Some future accusers to be called may well be genuine civil servants. It is an important distinction; not for the purposes of the trial – it makes no difference to the jury or the facts of the case – but to the wider political ramifications.
Anyway, for a report on yesterday’s evidence from important SNP politicians and apparatchiks, I refer again to Grouse Beater. Today I am going to lift a section of his report wholesale, for which I trust he will forgive me:
d. Next witness is a complainer, Woman A, so court being cleared again. Alex Salmond is accused of indecently assaulting her and sexually assaulting her. Woman A tells the court she was working for the SNP in 2008 when Alex Salmond’s behaviour caused her concern. He says he would go in as if to kiss her cheek but then give her a “sloppy and kind of unpleasant” kiss on the lips. Woman A also says “at times he would put his hand on my back and move his hands so they were on the side of my chest or on my bum”. “I took the view it was deliberately…there was no need for his hand to be there, it wasn’t something you would have done by accident.” Did Woman A encourage Alex Salmond to kiss or touch her? “Not at all.” Did she want it to happen? “Absolutely not.” Did she voice disapproval? “I didn’t know how to say ‘don’t do this’ to the first minister, but I would move, I actually began to carry a bag so it was between us”. Why didn’t Woman A tell Alex Salmond to stop? “I liked my job,” she says. “He was the most powerful man in the country….I had experienced volatile mood swings and behaviour from him and it was always easier to move away then risk infuriating or antagonising him.” Did Woman A tell anyone? “I was embarrassed, I was doing this job which meant a lot to me and him humiliating me on a regular basis was embarrassing. I didn’t want to tell people he was doing this….it would make me look weak.”
e. Woman A tells court that Alex Salmond touched her at a party; running his hands down over “the curve of my body” while saying “you look good, you’ve lost weight”. She says she was “kind of internally shocked” and kept her distance from him for the rest of the night. Alex Prentice asks Woman A if she consented to anything Alex Salmond is said to have done to her? “Never”. Did she give a signal of consent? “No”. Prosecution finished with witness, now Gordon Jackson will cross examine.
f. Gordon Jackson says Alex Salmond kissed other people on the lips; “what he did to you was the same he did to members of the public – that’s the sort of man he was”. Woman A says she doesn’t remember seeing Alex Salmond holding other women by the shoulders. Jackson says “these events such as they were are absolutely nothing, and were not distressing in any way or form”. He says they have “turned into criminality” due to “revisionism because other things happened since”. Woman A says that’s “categorically wrong”. Jackson asking why she didn’t later disclose the alleged incidents; Woman A says she had “put them behind me” and “moved on”. Woman A says “I didn’t want to be drawn into a world where I was dealing with my complaint against Alex Salmond….until the police came to see me I was content not to be part of this.” On the incident where Woman A says Alex Salmond ran his hands over her and said she had lost weight, Jackson says “you call that groping?” “Yes,” she replies. He had contended that “nothing happened”; Woman A says “Mr Salmond assaulted me – that’s not nothing”. Asking about Woman A’s contact with other complainers. She says she contacted others off the back of the Daily Record story, saying she thought it “would be difficult for people to handle”, she wanted to “check they were okay”. She says she also reached out to men. Jackson says Woman A was “very much a part of encouraging people to make a complaint, and make things that were trivial, nothing, turned into criminal charges”. Woman A says “I was not encouraging people to make a complaint.”
g. Next witness is Woman C – an SNP politician. Alex Salmond is accused of sexually assaulting her. Woman C says she was celebrating after a Holyrood budget vote, at a restaurant. Alex Salmond offered her a lift to Waverley Station in his ministerial car afterwards to catch a train, she says. Woman C says Alex Salmond put his hand on her leg, above the knee, and kept it there for “a large proportion of the journey”. Did she invite him to do this? “Absolutely not”. She was “embarrassed” and “just hoped it would stop”. Asked why she didn’t say something or call for help, Woman C says “it was so surreally [sic] awful that I didn’t want to say anything, I was just really embarrassed by it and presumed he would stop quite soon because it was so not the right thing to do.”
h. Shelagh McCall cross examining now. She puts it to Woman C that Alex Salmond “says he never touched your leg”. Woman C replies that “I wish it wasn’t the case, so I wouldn’t be here today.” Asking Woman C about whether she felt under pressure from Woman A to speak to the police. She says she didn’t feel pressure to give a statement; she only wanted to speak about things when she wanted to, but “people were talking about this”. Asking if this was a trivial incident? Woman C says “it was something done by my first minister and leader – it was something you put to one side, because who on earth are you going to tell about something like that?” Asked if she thought alleged incident a sexual assault, Woman C says “it was entirely inappropriate and wrong”. “I suppose when you look back you realise how much you excuse a person because of who they are.”
The Ms A incident, if for the moment we take her account as true, raises some very serious questions. Sexual assault is rightly an extremely serious matter, carrying heavy penalties. When does contact over clothing, not with an erogenous zone, become sexual assault?
It is important to emphasise that the defence do not accept Ms A’s account, but the judge’s direction to the jury on this point is going to be extremely interesting. The jury determine fact, but on the point of law they should be guided by the judge.
Pizza Express are getting a lot of very peculiar publicity. The dinner from which Alex Salmond gave Ms C a lift to Waverley Station was at Pizza Express Holyrood. No evidence so far that Prince Andrew was at the next table. As the defence pointed out to Ms C, it’s about a quarter of a mile to drive. (This is true, I used to live next door, and I could dash it on foot in six minutes to catch a train).
Woman C says Alex Salmond put his hand on her leg, above the knee, and kept it there for “a large proportion of the journey”. Did she invite him to do this? “Absolutely not”. She was “embarrassed” and “just hoped it would stop”. Asked why she didn’t say something or call for help, Woman C says “it was so surreally awful that I didn’t want to say anything, I was just really embarrassed by it and presumed he would stop quite soon because it was so not the right thing to do.”
The defence also pointed out that the limousine in question had a large fixed armrest between the two back passengers which would make the surreptitious or casual placing of a hand difficult. None of these defence points appear to have found their way into mainstream media.
But the two most important facts of the day seem – as you would expect – to be missed entirely by the mainstream media.
They are brought out by the excellent report by James Doleman in Byline Times. The first is that Ms C admitted to being a member of a WhatsApp group that had been “discussing” the allegations against Salmond. I use the verb “discussing” used by James Doleman and presumably used in court. Other verbs are available.
Secondly, Ms C said she had come forward in response to an “unsolicited email” by a police officer. I have previously reported on the massive fishing expedition conducted by Police Scotland against Alex Salmond in the context of the civil case he won against the Scottish government for the unfair and biased process conducted against him.
The court remains closed to the public when the accusers give evidence, which is over 90% of the trial so far. I have reapplied for accreditation as media, now as the newly appointed Political Editor of an established media organisation, Black Isle Journalism Ltd, which meets the required criteria. I await a response.
With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.
This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.
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