Alex Salmond quits SNP amid sexual harassment investigation

The former Scottish first minister has resigned his party membership in order to relieve the pressure on his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

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Alex Salmond has resigned his membership of the SNP ahead of a court battle with the Scottish government over allegations of sexual harassment.

The former Scottish first minister is under investigation by the administration he led from 2007 to 2014 over two accusations dating from his time in office, which have been reported to the police.

He denies the allegations, which were made in January and revealed to him in March, and last week said he would seek a judicial review of the Scottish government probe into his conduct. He has complained that details of the case had been leaked to the press and also alleges that he has not been allowed to “see and therefore to properly challenge the case against me”.

In a video message recorded this evening, however, he announced that he had quit the SNP in order to prevent the party’s rivals from making political capital out of his continued membership and avert infighting should it have been forced to suspend him. He urged his supporters in the party – many of whom have criticised the investigation – not to follow his lead, and said he plans to reapply for membership “as soon as I have had the opportunity to clear my name.”

“I did not come into politics to facilitate opposition attacks on the SNP,” he said. “With Parliament returning next week, I have tendered my resignation to remove this line of opposition attack. Most of all I am conscious that if the Party felt forced into suspending me it would cause substantial internal division.”

Restating his denials, he added: “I refute these two complaints of harassment and I absolutely reject any suggestion of criminality.”

Nicola Sturgeon, his successor as leader, former deputy and longtime protege, has faced calls to suspend him since the news broke last week. On Sunday she she insisted there was no legal basis to do so but she remained under sustained attack from opposition parties. Salmond’s decision to quit relieves the pressure on her on two fronts.

In a statement, she said she understood Salmond's decision. “I feel a huge sadness about this whole situation,” she said. “Alex has been my friend and mentor for almost 30 years and his contribution to the SNP and the independence movement speaks for itself.

“While the decision to resign has been Alex's alone, I understand why he has chosen to separate the current questions he is facing from the day to day business of the SNP and the ongoing campaign for independence.”

She has been spared of the need to make a decision on her predecessor’s political future, and the toxic consequences it would have inevitably had for the internal politics of the SNP. And, as Salmond himself suggests, his departure will partially defuse the issue at Holyrood: the question of his relationship with his former party going forward is no longer a live one for Sturgeon.

Of course, that isn’t to say that the net result of the controversy won't damage the current first minister. She said last week that the SNP had received no complaints about her predecessor’s conduct. The controversy has some distance to run yet, however, and she still faces calls to reveal the nature of three discussions she had with him after the allegations were first made. But in the immediate term, some of the pressure is off.

Both the Scottish Conservatives and Labour criticised Salmond's statement and his decision to launch a crowdfunder appeal for his legal fees. Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour's spokesperson for women, said: “That an independently wealthy man with his celebrity and political power is to raise legal fees through a crowdfunded for a case ultimately linked to sexual harassment is unbelievable.”

Annie Wells, for the Tories, said: “There is something deeply unsettling about an independently wealthy man asking ordinary people for money so he can take the government of Scotland to court for investigation allegations of sexual harassment against staff. Invoking his support for independence while he does so seems crass in the extreme.”

Read Alex Salmond's statement in full:

I have been a member of the Scottish National Party for 45 years, 20 of them as party leader and seven as First Minister of Scotland. I hope I have done the party and the broader cause of independence some service.

Apart from a political spat back in the 1980s, that has been a period of continuous membership. I truly love the SNP and the wider independence movement in Scotland.

They have been the defining commitment of my life. But today I have written to the National Secretary of the party resigning my membership.

I read carefully Nicola Sturgeon's statement on Sunday and watched her television interview of a couple of days ago. She made it clear that the SNP have never received a single complaint about my personal conduct in my many decades of membership.

And the Scottish Government have confirmed that they did not have any such complaint before this January, more than three years after I left office as first minister.

That is the record of 30 years of public service.

So let me be clear again. I refute these two complaints of harassment and I absolutely reject any suggestion of criminality.

I believe that all such issues must be treated seriously, confidentially and through a fair process. In this case confidentiality has been broken greatly to my detriment and in a way which puts at serious risk the anonymity of both complainants.

It urgently needs to be established who breached that duty of confidence and why.

It seems obvious that Nicola feels under pressure from other political parties to suspend me from SNP membership, given recent party precedents.

For my part I have always thought it a very poor idea to suspend any party member on the basis of complaints and allegations. Innocent until proven guilty is central to our concept of justice.

However, I did not come into politics to facilitate opposition attacks on the SNP and, with Parliament returning next week, I have tendered my resignation to remove this line of opposition attack.

Most of all I am conscious that if the party felt forced into suspending me it would cause substantial internal division.

In my letter to the National Secretary I state that it is my absolute intention to reapply for SNP membership just as soon as I have had the opportunity to clear my name. I hope that is by the end of this year.

In the meantime I would urge no one else to relinquish their SNP membership.

My entire focus for the next few weeks is preparing for Judicial Review, against the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, the initial stages of which began yesterday.

My intention is to secure fairness because that is necessary to clear my name. I am enormously grateful for the messages of support and encouragement I have received, including from people of other political persuasions.

I can assure them all that I will keep on going.

The costs of a Judicial Review in the highest court in the land are huge. Many have asked how they can help directly. Therefore I have established a crowd-funder to assist with costs.

All sums received will contribute exclusively to progressing the Judicial Review and any money left over will be used to support good causes in Scotland and beyond.

Finally, I will continue to serve the independence movement in whatever role and whatever capacity I can.

It is a rare thing to be devoted to a cause more important than any individual, it is a precious thing to cherish it and my intention now - as it has always been -is to protect and sustain that cause.”

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.