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MAKING predictions about politics, about pretty near anything these days, is a risky business. But here is one you can count on. BBC Scotland’s new television/radio politics programme, The Sunday Show, having failed to bag many headlines on its debut last week, is not going to have that problem today.
By airing an interview with one of the women who accused former First Minister Alex Salmond of wrongdoing, the show has waded into one of the biggest rows to hit Scottish politics for decades.
Was it right to do so, and did it treat the matter fairly?
First things first. Last March, the former FM was cleared of all sexual assault charges against him.
Before that, he had challenged the Scottish Government’s handling of an investigation into sexual misconduct complaints made against him. He won that case, with the process ruled “tainted by apparent bias” and he was awarded more than £500,000 in costs.
A Holyrood committee is now investigating that botched initial investigation into sexual misconduct complaints.
Mr Salmond had been due to appear before the committee last week, but cancelled.
He will look again at that decision after learning details of a legal ruling in a relevant case brought by the Spectator magazine. Those details will be published today.
Accuser on Holyrood enquiry
A sensitive time, then, more so with Scottish Parliament elections due in May. But if the woman wanted to come forward and have her say about the Salmond inquiry, why shouldn’t the BBC run the interview? As the woman said, there has already been “endless commentary” on the subject.
“One of the hardest things about becoming involved in an issue like this, reporting incidents to the police and becoming involved in a High Court trial, is that actually your voice is almost taken away from you,” she said. “When something is so high profile, and you have endless commentary on this for years, it’s a scary thing to speak up.”
Yet this is the not the first time women involved in the case have spoken up.
Freelance journalist Dani Garavelli talked to five of the nine complainants for a piece published by Tortoise Media in April 2020. In accordance with the law their identities were protected.
In August of the same year, the BBC broadcast The Trial of Alex Salmond, a documentary by Kirsty Wark. The broadcaster spoke to three of the nine in what was their first television interviews. Again, their identities were concealed and their words spoken by actors.
Now there is another interview in the public domain. Once more, as the interviewer, BBC Scotland political editor Glenn Campbell, made clear, the woman’s voice and appearance had been altered to “protect her identity”.
Within a month of airing, the Wark documentary was the subject of almost 1000 complaints to the BBC, most accusing the film of bias against Mr Salmond, who had declined to take part.
A contributor to the film, journalist Alan Taylor, accused the corporation of abandoning “all pretence of impartiality”.
In response to the complaints, the BBC defended the film, telling The National, sister paper of The , that the programme had been an accurate and fair reflection of events. It added that the trial outcome – that is, Mr Salmond being cleared of all charges – would have been known to those watching.
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It remains to be seen whether there will be similar complaints about The Sunday Show. Campbell said at the outset, and during the interview, that Mr Salmond had been cleared. Moreover, for the most part, the woman directed her comments at the Holyrood inquiry.
However, she also made reference to the criminal trial. Of claims of a conspiracy to stop Mr Salmond making a return to frontline politics, she said: “It is utterly absurd to suggest that nine women could be persuaded to lie to the police, to perjure themselves in court.” Was this retrying the trial?
Going on to the Holyrood inquiry, she said the process had in many ways been more traumatic than the trial. She accused the cross-party committee of taking “very personal experiences” and exploiting them for “their own self-serving political interests”.
Turning the matter into a political fight had resulted, she said, in the Scottish Government getting away with not being properly scrutinised on its procedures.
Campbell put these criticisms to SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, convener of the Holyrood inquiry. She said the comments were “very hard to hear” and apologised personally.
Given the woman had accused committee members of exploiting personal experiences for political gain, it might have been fairer to give one or two others a right of reply as well.
At one point in the interview the woman said the committee had strayed so far from its own remit that it had made any of its findings “completely useless”.
If there is one point on which many will agree it is that this inquiry, and other events of these past two years, have generated more heat than light. Whether this interview for The Sunday Show adds to the problem will be the cause of further argument. You can bet on that, too.
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