What does the Salmond inquiry mean for Scotland?

The Scottish National Party is besieged by a political scandal which concerned former Party leader Alex Salmond: how could this undermine Scotland’s independence?

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts at the Scottish parliament, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The tensions between Prime Minister Sturgeon and former Party leader Salmond is linked to the political scandal which concerned Mr. Salmond  in 2018 when he was accused of sexual harassment, followed by his arrest in 2019 and ending in his absolution.

Mr. Salmond accused his previous Party comrades, including the current leader Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrel, who is also a key figure within the Party, of conspiring against him. In fact, the Prime Minister is suspected of having misled the Scottish Parliament and breaking, as a consequence, the ministerial code. More precisely, Nicola Sturgeon is accused of having provided misleading information to the Scottish Parliament about a private meeting held at her residence in 2018 with Mr. Salmond to discuss the case, while allegations were already under examination.

Whether or not Mrs. Surgeon has breached the ministerial code will be decided by James Hamilton, Ireland’s former Director of Public Prosecutions until 2011. In the event that Mr. Hamilton finds that the Scottish Prime Minister broke the ministerial code, which would constrain Mrs. Sturgeon to resign, the SNP might find itself in a dangerous situation right before the next Scottish Parliament election, scheduled for May 2021. The popularity of the independence cause is very much linked to the figure of Mrs. Surgeon, and a political scandal could damage both her image and the future of the independence referendum.

How much of an obstacle to Scottish independence does this crisis pose?

The relationship between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Scottish Prime Minister Sturgeon was already tense following Brexit in early 2021.If allegations against Mrs. Sturgeon are confirmed by Mr. Hamilton, the Prime Minister would be forced to resign, severely affecting the SNP’s victory at the polls in May. The resulting crisis within the Scottish National Party could potentially endanger the independence of Scotland and Edinburgh’s wish to rejoin the EU.

According to some surveys, Mrs. Sturgeon currently seems to be ahead in the upcoming election, which will be a real crossroads for the future of Scotland. A recent survey from the Daily Mail on a potential Scottish independence referendum shows that the "YES" votes would win the election with a majority 52%. However, under the 1998 Scotland Act, the Scottish Parliament devolved specific powers to the Government of London. Westminster can grant the Scottish Government a referendum using the so-called "Section 30”, which refers to a specific section of the Scotland Act that permits Holyrood to adopt laws in fields that are generally under Westminster’s direct rule. This  act was already used in the 2014 referendum when the "NO" won with just over 55% of the votes.

By early 2020, Johnson had already rejected Scotland’s request for a referendum. However, in case the SNP wins the next Scottish Parliament Elections, Johnson would have no democratic or moral motivation to reject the request.

In conclusion, the withdrawal of Scotland from the United Kingdom and the attempt to return to the European Union will necessarily pass through Scottish Parliament Elections in May 2021. Thus, it goes without saying that Mr. Hamilton’s judgment will be crucial not only for Mrs. Sturgeon and her political career, but for Scotland as well.


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