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26 March 2021updated 23 Jul 2021 1:26pm

Alex Salmond was described by his own defence witness as “a creep“. Now he’s back with a new party

Salmond's defence argued that his behaviour was "inappropriate" at times, but not criminal. His return raises grave questions about what we accept in public life. 

By Ailbhe Rea

Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland and ex-leader of the SNP, “could be inappropriate” and “a bugger to work for”, his own defence lawyer told the Scottish High Court during his trial last year. He was later acquitted of all of the charges against him, including attempted rape and sexual assault.

“He behaved badly, I’m not here to defend him, but attempted rape? It doesn’t fit,” Gordon Jackson QC, leading Salmond’s defence, said in court. The defence lawyer added that the former first minister could have been a “better man”.

It was a line of defence described by one of Salmond’s own defence witnesses, Alex Bell, as: “I’m sleazy, but not criminal.” That same witness, who served as a speechwriter and special adviser under Salmond, also described him as “a creep”.

[Hear more from Ailbhe on the New Statesman podcast]

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And that’s not to mention the footage that emerged of Salmond’s lawyer during the trial, in which he was filmed speaking on the phone on a train, allegedly describing his client as “an objectionable bully” and a “sex pest”, but “he’s not charged with that”. (The lawyer later withdrew his comments and referred himself to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.)

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Salmond has now returned to the front line of Scottish politics, as the leader of the new Alba Party, which will stand list candidates in the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. 

Salmond is no longer a retired politician, seeking a private life after a high-profile criminal trial. This is formerly the most powerful man in Scottish politics, described as “a creep” by a man who spoke for the defence, pursuing a return to public life. 

The return of Alex Salmond poses a huge question to everyone else in politics, the media and to every voter: what sort of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable? The legal question is settled. But the question as to the standards we demand of the men and women in public life has not been.