Alex Salmond delivered his testimony to the Parliamentary Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints with a calm, statesmanlike dignity which contrasts sharply with the often shrill, intemperate and inappropriate denunciations heaped upon him by Nicola Sturgeon and her fan club. That dignified, self-possessed demeanour has been maintained by throughout the course of events that have been a festering sore on Scotland’s public life and a personal nightmare for Alex Salmond for nearly three years. If those following these events can all agree on one thing – and they surely can agree on no more than that – it is the hope that this matter is drawing to some kind of a close. But will matters be resolved? Will there be effective closure? That is less certain.
I never thought of this as a Salmond versus Sturgeon affair. I try to resist such simplifications. But there is now no denying that two camps a firmly established. When that happens, minds seldom change. People tend to adhere to their chosen camp regardless of even the most persuasive evidence indicating that they may have chosen unwisely. Minds are made up and closed down – firmly shuttered against the ravages of cognitive dissonance. However impressive Alex Salmond’s performance, it is unlikely to have significantly swayed the jury in the court of public opinion. His detractors will have found in the dignity only the egoism of which they accuse him. The self-possession will appear to them as arrogance; because it is arrogance they seek. The calmness will translate in their minds as smugness. They will see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear and it will all conform to their preconceptions and confirm their previous judgement. They will feel right and righteous. They will feel good about themselves.
The same is certainly true of those who have placed themselves in Salmond’s camp. It would have taken a seriously bad performance on Salmond’s part to make them admire him less. Just as it will require something quite extraordinary from Nicola Sturgeon when her turn comes to cause that admiration to falter. Why dig a trench to house your views if your views not going to be entrenched?
There being two such solidly entrenched camps it is likely that the Salmond versus Sturgeon formulation will become an established part of our political discourse for some time to come. The legends of both ‘combatants’ will grow as required to keep respective camp-followers on board. History may well tell a tale of current events that will be barely recognisable to those of us living through them.
It is questionable whether even the most incontrovertible evidence would dissolve the barriers of mutual antipathy separating the Salmond and Sturgeon camps. People have a remarkable facility for favouring their prejudices over evident reality. Conspiracy theorists tend to exhibit a bewildering ability to fold contradictory evidence into their theories. The only thing they find more persuasive than an absence of evidence is an abundance of contrary evidence. Several levels of dementedness below the committed conspiracy theorist the mythical ‘average person’ is nonetheless still very reluctant to part with their ‘truth’ when prompted to do so by some unchallengeable proof. Judgements are made even before any evidence is in and become treasured possessions which can’t be prised from the grasp of the judgemental by mere objective truth.
Even if the Fabiani Committee’s findings are not the insipid fudge I think most expect, it all but certainly won’t settle the matter. As Alex Salmond noted in his opening statement,
The failures of leadership are many and obvious, and yet not a single person has taken responsibility. Not a single resignation, not a single sacking, not even an admonition. Instead we have promotions or extensions of contracts and self-serving defences.
The findings of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints are unlikely to change that. There may be a sacrificial scapegoat. But I anticipate no stable-cleaning such as the situation would seem to demand. Even that sacrificial scapegoat seems only barely possible. The players on the Sturgeon side of the thing are all so closely interlinked that it’s hard to see how one might be taken out without a Jenga-like collapse ensuing. It’s human nature to want to spread the blame in the hope of lessening one’s own burden. I look at the people involved from the administration’s side and I struggle to see anybody who might be inclined to an act of noble sacrifice. There are no heroes among the leading participants in the relentless hounding of Alex Salmond. There is nothing of nobility about them. In that regard if no other the hunters are less than their quarry.
People will be left to make their own judgements. Many – perhaps most – did that a long time ago. The Fabiani farce will change nothing. A nation will have suffered this embarrassment for nothing. The loved will be loved with the same passion. The loathed will be loathed with the same fervour. The sometimes vanishingly small part of all our minds which acts as a disinterested observer will wonder what was the point of it all.
The inquiry being conducted by James Hamilton QC may be a very different matter. He is is one of the independent advisers on the Scottish Ministerial Code and is investigation alleged breach(es) of the Ministerial Code by Nicola Sturgeon. If the Fabiani farce is as damp a squib as I expect then the outcome of the Hamilton inquiry is likely to be explosive. We wait and watch with great interest.
For the present the best that can be said of the Parliamentary inquiry is that while it has done nothing to enhance the reputations of either committee members or the bulk of witnesses, it has provided an opportunity for Alex Salmond to confirm himself as a towering figure in Scottish politics. He may even have done this so effectively as to to prompt some to except themselves from the rule and revise their earlier judgement. A certain individual may be more than slightly miffed about this.