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Salmond trial could send shock waves through SNP

The former first minister took the party closer to its dream of independence than ever before.

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The court case against Alex Salmond has highlighted the split between the former first minister and his successor (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The court case against Alex Salmond has highlighted the split between the former first minister and his successor (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The court case against Alex Salmond has highlighted the split between the former first minister and his successor (Andrew Milligan/PA)

To many, Alex Salmond is synonymous with the SNP.

A charismatic leader, he took the party and its followers closer than ever to their dream of independence.

As the Scottish referendum campaign reached its final phase in September 2014, cheering supporters followed the then-first minister everywhere he went.

Alex Salmond was mobbed by supporters as he travelled around Scotland in the run-up to the 2014 independence vote (Andrew Milligan/PA)

At his side throughout his reign at the top of Scottish politics was his right-hand woman, Nicola Sturgeon.

Therefore, perhaps the impact of the allegations – all of which Mr Salmond was cleared of – can be most illustrated by the split between the pair.

He had been her mentor, with Ms Sturgeon speaking last year about her “pain and anguish” over the freeze in their relationship.

But since the allegations came to light, she has been at pains to follow due process, steering clear of making any comments about the case.

She was equally clear the complaints against him could not be swept under the carpet.

The relationship between the SNP’s two most successful leaders is so damaged one commentator described them as being “irreparably, irrevocably at war”.

Alex Salmond won a legal case against the Scottish Government over its handling of misconduct allegations (Jane Barlow/PA)

As an example of that, in January last year a spokesman for the current First Minister accused supporters of Mr Salmond of trying to “smear” Ms Sturgeon by suggesting she knew about the investigation into complaints against him before April 2018.

There will now be a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of legal proceedings the former first minister brought against the administration.

While the Court of Session in January 2019 ruled the handling of complaints made by two female workers was “tainted by apparent bias”, Ms Sturgeon defended Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans – Scotland’s most senior civil servant – from calls by Mr Salmond for her to go.

While there have been suggestions the split between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor is so deep it could rip the SNP apart, this seems unlikely.

The SNP has already survived major divisions between its factions, with the ultimate goal of independence being sufficient glue to keep the party together.

But could the case for independence – rather than just the SNP – be damaged by the trial and its fallout?

Alex Salmond arriving at court with his wife Moira during his trial (Jane Barlow/PA)

That would depend on various factors, including the timing of any second independence referendum.

While Ms Sturgeon had wanted to hold another ballot this year, the coronavirus pandemic means that has now become impossible.

So if a vote is deferred to a later date, it could be that impact of headlines about the trial and the former SNP leader will have a greatly reduced impact.

PA