Salmond-Sturgeon psychodrama part deux: it ain’t over till the petite lady sings. Opinion, Alison Rowat



ONE wag has compared the Holyrood committee investigating the Salmond imbroglio to Handforth parish council, whose warring ways went viral recently. Careful: Handforth might sue.

You can understand why the bickering councillors in Cheshire (“YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY JACKIE WEAVER!”) might be upset at being likened to the panel of MSPs looking at the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against former First Minister Alex Salmond. If only. The committee, indeed the whole affair, has been crying out for a sensible lady of a certain age to send participants into the Holyrood equivalent of a virtual waiting room until they calm down.

Now that the BBC in London has woken up to the goings on in Scotland (the story made it on to the News at Six the other night, after the UAE launching a mission to Mars and before the weather), it behoves everyone to up their game. Particularly since we are now approaching what could be the final act in the saga: Nicola Sturgeon’s appearance before the committee next Tuesday.

Welcome to the Salmond-Sturgeon Psychodrama Part Deux: It’s Not Over Till the Petite Lady Sings.

The parish council comparison was especially apt while watching Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and First Husband, giving evidence from the couple’s conservatory, a spot also favoured by the First Minister for interviews.

Sturgeon refuses to say if she would quit

Now I like conservatories. I have one of my own. But they are hardly synonymous with the making of history. Mary Queen of Scots did not meet her end in a conservatory. The future of Europe after the Second World War was not decided on wicker furniture.

Watching Mr Murrell squirm and demonstrate zero knowledge of the word “refute” – as in prove something to be wrong, rather than simply claim it is – one was reminded less of Watergate and more of Terry and June. You know, the one where Terry says he was not at home when June’s former pal, Alex, popped round, only to later remember that he was at home? How we laughed, or didn’t.

None of this is a laughing matter. Not the half a million in costs awarded to Mr Salmond for the Scottish Government’s flawed handling of allegations against him. Not the £76,048 and counting spent preparing Civil Service witnesses for the Holyrood inquiry. Not the bringing of a criminal case that ended with Mr Salmond cleared of all charges of sexual assault.

A time will come when we can make better sense of these events. There cannot be many still holding out hope that the Holyrood committee’s report will bring an end to the matter. Having split down the middle over publication of Mr Salmond’s evidence, despite it being in the public domain already, the committee has made itself look ridiculous, and the Scottish Parliament not much better. The matter comes before the High Court in Edinburgh today, when the Spectator magazine mounts a challenge to the reporting restrictions on Mr Salmond’s trial last year.

Salmond weighs inquiry options

Longer term there will be the inevitable memoirs in which all sides can have their say. Perhaps it will eventually fall to the arts to shine a light into the gloom and pick out something meaningful. Maybe the entire event is better understood as a tale of human failings rather than a failure of politics.

When one looks at epic rows in politics the human factor is not given nearly as much weight as it ought to be. This is largely due to politicians themselves. They prefer their fights to be portrayed as lofty disagreements over political principle, rather than two people deciding they simply cannot stand each other any more.

That, after all, would be childish. That would involve recognising the part emotions play in all human interaction. We could not have that. Too vague and messy, likely to open the door to all sorts of differing interpretations. It would be like sitting in judgment on two people ending a long marriage. By common consent no one really knows what goes on between people in such an intimate relationship, so why rush to play armchair psychologist on a political partnership?

Well, because feelings do matter, in politics as much as any other part of life. It has been more than half a century since the concept of emotional intelligence was recognised.

Today, no large organisation would think of appointing a senior executive without assessing how well that person deals with their own feelings, and those of other people. In an increasingly litigious world mistakes can be costly.

There are certainly feelings among those taking sides in the Salmond-Sturgeon row, some running higher by the hour. With every day that passes it becomes harder to see peace breaking out. Psychodramas have a momentum all of their own. In time, no-one but the two parties originally involved can say what the dispute was really about, and even then they are likely to disagree.

That was the case with the Blair-Brown psychodrama. At the heart of their dispute was supposedly a deal over the leadership of the Labour Party: who would run for it, and how long they would stay in the job. As time went on it became about the direction of the party, who best represented its future. But everything stemmed from that initial failure of communication. Blair thought he said one thing; Brown understood another.

You could say the same about the SNP psychodrama. Did she think he would head off into retirement as an elder statesman, to be dusted off for special occasions? Did he think she would appreciate his continued guidance and his staying at the forefront of the independence debate?

One day we might find out. In the meantime the postie has been. Come hell, high water, or a foot of snow, the postie always gets through. He was bearing a letter in a brown envelope, checking who wants a postal vote for the Scottish Parliament Election on May 6.

As matters stand, Scotland is going into an election where the party tipped to win a majority is tearing itself apart, and no-one can settle on a clear reason why. On May 7 that same governing party will be just as split as on May 6, so what can we expect but more of the same? It is no laughing matter indeed.

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