I have never been one to shy away from a robust political debate, but there are some issues that must be above party political swiping.
Recent news of allegations against Alex Salmond is an example of a moment when politicians and parties of all stripes must think carefully before speaking, or tweeting. I think it is regrettable that the former First Minister is pursuing legal action against the Scottish Government, and that he has raised over £50,000 from his supporters to help him do so. It distracts focus from the investigation and the need to protect those who have made complaints. There are established procedures for dealing with past and present complaints of harassment against Scottish Ministers, procedures that were signed off by Nicola Sturgeon last year.
That process has now been initiated and should be allowed to take its course. Alex Salmond should get his fair hearing but, even if he is innocent, the decision to throw his power and other people’s money at challenging the process may discourage other women who fear the consequences of reporting their own experience of sexual abuse from coming forward.
The same can be said of calls for the resignation of the Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans if Mr Salmond is cleared. This undermines Ms Evan’s authority to conduct a full and fair investigation and risks sending a message to victims of sexual assault that their complaint may not be taken forward if the evidence is not seen as strong enough because the job of the person investigating the complaint relies upon it. The odds are already stacked against survivors of rape and sexual assault. The majority of perpetrators will walk free, we should be concentrating our efforts on doing something about that, not putting up new barriers to justice.
The video on Mr Salmond’s crowd funder is titled ‘Salmond puts Scottish independence first” and the page has been inundated with thousands of comments that seek to draw parallels between his legal action and independence. Salmond was right to resign from the SNP to allow for the investigation, but any attempt to conflate his legal action with Scotland’s constitutional future is deeply irresponsible. That is also why it is important that political parties avoid overtly political responses to serious matters such as these.
It is one thing to criticise Salmond and to call for appropriate action to be taken, but all of us owe it to the people involved that their complaints will be handled in an appropriate and neutral manner. For what it is worth, I think the First Minister has handled what must be a very difficult situation admirably. She has demonstrated leadership and has been clear about the need for complaints to be investigated without fear or favour, regardless of the seniority of the person involved.
If we are to instil confidence in the complaints process, we must all get behind that principle and resist seeing it as the latest party political football.