2007 - 2021

The Storm Is Here – on both sides of the Atlantic

For those not quite familiar with the premise of these two things – “QAnon” refers to a popular conspiracy theory on the American right which purports Donald Trump as a biblical saviour, here to deliver the US from a deep state cabal of satanic paedophiles. This mythology was a pivotal component of the Capitol Hill riot on 6/1, in which a violent mob stormed the houses of Congress, hoping to overturn recognition of Biden’s victory. Salmondgate refers to the conspiracy alleged by Alex Salmond against the Scottish Government, SNP, crown office and parliament of rigging false sexual abuse allegations against him to bring him down. Following his acquittal on all charges, this has now become the focus of the Holyrood Inquiry on the subject of ScotGov’s investigation of claims against him.

There are an incredible number of surface-level similarities between supporters of the “QAnon” conspiracy movement in the United States, and the vocal segment of the independence movement that indulges conspiracies surrounding the fallout of the sexual accusations made against the former FM. However, there are some even deeper, tectonic symmetries between the two sides of the Atlantic, which to some extent reveal how hollowed out the credibility of state institutions and authority has become.

The most superficial comparison is simply the shared vocabulary of both groups of conspiratorial-minded people. Salmond fans repeatedly invoke Q catchphrases like ‘a storm is coming’, as well as the emergence of themes like the “deep state” or “secret cabals”. Both movements are also fueled by base reactionary impulses such as misogyny, antisemitism and transphobia. The fundamental premise of Trump’s #StopTheSteal rallying call is that all votes for the Democratic party are fundamentally illegitimate – largely by virtue of their voters being disproportionately black, young, immigrant and female and thus in the eyes of Republican America never truly be legitimate citizens. Similarly, the driving impulse of Salmondgate for most of his followers is that Salmond has been proven unimpeachably innocent (he hasn’t), and that all nine women who accused him of misconduct are therefore liars, as are all of the other women taking their side by choosing to believe them. The fundamental anxiety driving this is one of the #MeToo movement going too far, and that if they can victimise a powerful man, it could be your husbands, brothers and sons next.

In addition to this, much of the Trump cult see him as a demi-godlike figure, capable of fixing all of the US’s ills and vanquishing his enemies with the snap of a finger. The more esoteric parts of the independence movement, much like QAnon, see Alex Salmond as an exiled king returning to the rescue of Scotland and the SNP, believing that the problems dogging the Yes movement will simply evaporate once he conquers the imposters currently leading the party. On both sides of the pond, this belief in lone saviour figures speaks to the wider disorientation of popular political participation and movements in disarray.

Both worldviews are, despite their convolution, deeply naïve in their understanding of how power functions in the real world. Lest it be forgotten, the large majority of the Trumpian mob who had gathered that day were not out seeking to overthrow the US Constitution, but to restore it – they thought that they could appeal to the instincts of American legislators to “do the right thing” and overturn a fraudulent election despite having no leverage over them. Similarly, a lot of Salmond-truthers believe that Scotland’s ruling institutions themselves are wholly virtuous and artificially corrupted by Sturgeon and her cabal, and that sweeping them out will fix everything. Some even think that Sturgeon will “have” to resign, despite there being absolutely no law or constitutional instrument which can compel her to do so.

The two conspiracies are cover stories by men, for the purpose of salving their own bruised egos. Donald Trump really was convinced that he could never lose an election in a million years, and when he did lose, he had to construct a version of reality that would afford him the greatest opportunity to save face. Thus began #StopTheSteal. Salmond was doubtless aggrieved by the fact that sexual harassment claims against him were taken seriously by the Scottish government, rather than simply brushed under the carpet. Even after acquittal, Salmond’s reputation has failed to recover – multiple admissions were made under oath of his unsavoury behaviour towards women in the workplace, and his own lawyer referred to him as a “sex pest”. Thus, his only hope at redemption is demonstrating a vast conspiracy against him, orchestrated by the highest echelons of every part of Scotland’s institutions.

The Delegitimisation of Devolution

Trump and Salmond have also become wrecking balls for their own institutions from which they arose. Trump’s kamikaze attacks on Georgia’s governor and state secretary, as well as on the integrity of the state’s elections, may have played a pivotal role in depressing Republican turnout in the Georgia special senate elections, gifting both seats – and a working senate majority for the first time in six years – to the Democrats. Trump has also whipped up chaos in the GOP congressional and senate ranks, promising to support primary challengers against insufficiently loyal incumbents. Salmond, in the meantime, is launching rhetorical missiles at every pillar of the state in Scotland and going as far as claiming that the country he once led is not fit for independence, while also whipping up massive division within the party and movement he once spearheaded.

Unionists, for their part, have been more than happy to legitimise these missives against Scotland’s civic pillars because their political project relies wholly on the delegitimisation of devolution, and the depoliticisation and alienation of the electorate from mass participation or faith in government – whereas the independence movement has thrived by doing the exact opposite, bringing consciousness to the masses and politicising everyday life itself. Similarly, institutionalist Republicans have merrily goaded on Trump’s attacks on democracy for simple self-serving reasons – namely that the GOP’s electoral coalition represents the diminishing white, rural, older and downwardly mobile section of America that can only hold onto power through minoritarian anti-democracy.

Finally, the anticlimactic ends of both movements have a lot in common. As Andrew Tickell deftly points out – the evidence which Salmond insists he is forbidden from admitting in order to prove the conspiracy against him could easily have been challenged on appeal if it were really of such great significance – and yet no appeal was ever made. Even more stunning was when Salmond himself admitted at the inquiry that absolutely no evidence implicating Nicola Sturgeon of participation in a conspiracy against him exists. This echoes the comically incompetent My Cousin Vinny-like Trump election appeals in court fought by a coterie of colourful characters like Rudy Giuliani, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell. Needless to say, the Trump campaign lost nearly every single litigation it filed.

The real tragedy here is that these two conspiracies have in fact obscured very real problems with the institutions they target. America’s political and electoral system is deeply undemocratic in multiple ways, before considering the far higher barriers to electoral participation that exist for low-income and ethnic minority voters – made even worse this year by processes that in many GOP-controlled states forced voters to risk exposure to a deadly disease in order to exercise their fundamental democratic rights. And the fact of the matter is that Scotland’s governing institutions absolutely – have failed the women who complained about their treatment, and more broadly victims of workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape in general.

The Scottish Government has made its share of unforced errors throughout this saga, and its inherent qualities of lack of transparency, hostility to scrutiny and evasion from accountability have reared their heads time and again. QAnon is rooted in a rich tradition of American conspiratorial right wing reactionary mass delusion, going back to the Anti-Masonic party, Know-Nothings and John Birch Society. Salmond’s behaviour has echoes of Tommy Sheridan’s, another powerful man who willingly destroyed a successful party in order to evade accountability. We deserve a lot better from the institutions that govern us, but little hope for that can exist when the most viable challenges to them come from an even worse place.

Comments (10)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    It is unsafe to make claims about what politicians or voters are actually thinking. You can quote their expressed intentions, and compare these against their behaviours, but you cannot know their actual thoughts and intentions. What these two examples bring to my mind is Macbeth (Act 3 scene 4) where the man who would be king says:
    “For mine own good,
    All causes shall give way: I am in blood
    Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
    Returning were as tedious as go o’er:
    Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
    Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.”
    http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/macbeth.3.4.html
    but that is conjecture. Still, other tainted political leaders have sought to gain partial or full immunity by clinging on to power, although there is only one person in the British empire that has reached this position of safety, and they have expressed an understandable wish to die in office rather than face potential legal trial after abdication.

    However, unionists cannot logically profit from the troubles of the SNP, since the Scottish party system inherits directly from the Westminster model. The Green Party of England and Wales has grappled with their reluctance to have a single leader, preferring pluralist spokespeople, but the standard is one-party, one-leader, and this has led to court (royal, not legal) structures and politics, with all their venomous vices, patronage and cliques.

  2. 3_man says:

    ‘going as far as claiming that the country he once led is not fit for independence’

    Did he actually say this or was it just made up by the Daily Express?

    Without condoning Salmond’s behaviour, which would have been the subject of disciplinary action had he been working in a normal workplace, the main party responsible for the conspiracy narrative are the people around Nicola Sturgeon who set this whole sorry episode in motion. They knew beforehand that their process was likely unlawful, and they acted with apparent bias in prosecuting it (so the court ruled). There is also little doubt that senior SNP figures tried to pressurise the police, at least, into taking a particular course of action.

    Salmond should have been disciplined by the party, then the evidence should have been passed to the crown office for them to consider any further action.

    To pretend that none of this happened is laughable, actually. If the cause of independence is put back by this debacle then those around the first minister have as much to answer for as Salmond does.

    1. John says:

      No he didn’t. Quite the opposite.
      This contributor doesn’t seem bothered the West is run by murderous deviant folk though.

  3. Graham Boyd says:

    This article is based upon an intentionally misleading set of statement by SNP member Tejas Mukerji on what the remit and purpose of the Parliamentary inquiry into the ‘Handling of harassment complaints involving current and former minister’s’ is seeking to discover.

    Mr Mukerji states:
    Salmondgate refers to the conspiracy alleged by Alex Salmond against the Scottish Government, SNP, crown office and parliament of rigging false sexual abuse allegations against him to bring him down. Following his acquittal on all charges, this has now become the focus of the Holyrood Inquiry on the subject of ScotGov’s investigation of claims against him.

    The Scottish Parliament website states the Committee’s remit to be:

    To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond, former First Minister, considered under the Scottish Government’s “Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers” procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code.

    Mr Salmond in both his written evidence (those parts that have been made public) and in his oral evidence under oath to the Harassment Committee has stated that he does not consider that there has be a conspiracy against him nor does he consider that the institutions of parliament, civil service, Crown office and SNP are corrupt or unsound nor that the country is ‘not fit for independence’. These are all assertions stated by Mr Mukerji for his opinion piece none of which are web linked to documentation and thus factual incorrect and misleading.

    Furthermore he goes on to incorrectly state that the Parliament established the Harassment inquiry after Mr Salmond’s trail acquittal. It did not. The Harassment Inquiry and the Hamilton Inquiry into Ms Sturgeon’s Ministerial Code referral were both established after the Scottish Government conceded the Judicial Review into the Harassment procedures which found them to be unlawful. These Inquires were in fact established prior to the trail and pended during the trail and the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic.

    If Mr Mukerji had bothered to do his research for his opinion piece by examining the extensive materials on the Scottish Parliament website on the Harassment Inquiry he would have grasped that it was an inquiry into the actions of the current First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers and that Mr Salmond was a witness called to give evidence by the Parliamentary Inquiry committee.

    Furthermore Mr Salmond in both his written evidence to the Hamilton Inquiry (published on the Scottish Parliament website) and in his oral evidence to the Parliamentary Committee has at no time called upon Ms Sturgeon to resign. What he has laid out his views on where and how the First Minister has broken the Ministerial code. His position on being asked by a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry as to whether the First Minister should resign was that this was a matter for the First Minister and the Scottish Parliament to decide.

    Mr Mukerji opinion piece is based upon very poor research, the presentation of incorrect and misleading facts, and a fundamental misreading of political cultures and worldviews in two distinctly differing countries.

  4. Pub Bore says:

    I hold no brief for Alex Salmond, but whatever it is he’s up to, he’s not doing it to ‘evade accountability’. He has already been held to account for his behaviour twice, once by the Scottish government and once by a jury.

    If we were feeling charitable, we might say that he’s doing what he’s doing to right a wrong he perceives the Scottish government – and the party that controls it – has done him; that ‘justice’ is what he’s after.

  5. Stage Left says:

    The linking of Trump and Salmond just won’t wash, sorry.

    It’s in all our interests that an independent Scotland is founded on truth. We can’t have such dodgy dealings and not sort them.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      On whose truth is it in all our interests that an independent Scotland is founded?

  6. Robert says:

    Bella’s “coverage” of the Salmond/Sturgeon affair is an absolute disgrace. This is the most serious scandal that has happened in Scotland since devolution, and a supposedly independent, left-wing news site has been functioning as an SNP mouthpiece.

  7. Edward Andrews says:

    Sorry, but for lot of people who have fallen out of love with the SNP there is no question of any return of Salmond.
    Many of us see the problem as basically the way that people have looked for a Messiah which is of course not actually available. Neither Sturgeon not Salmond are any more than passing politicians.
    I don’t know why this rubbish was published in Bella.

  8. Malcolm Kerr says:

    OK, I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion. I lost interest in this, however, after the frankly ridiculous “Both movements are also fuelled by base reactionary impulse such as misogyny anti-semitism and transphobia.”
    The big issue at stake is whether we want genuine participative democracy or leadership by personality cult. Salmond is ultimately responsible for the latter, albeit Sturgeon has raised its impact by several levels. This isn’t how we should be approaching self-government.

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