Salmond arrested as SNP saga takes latest extraordinary turn

Alex Salmond has been arrested by Police Scotland and is due in court this afternoon, the Scotsman reports. It is not yet known what he has been charged with.

This is the latest twist in the extraordinary saga gripping the SNP, which I provided an overview of in this column last week. A grievous split has emerged between Salmond and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, over the handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against the former First Minister.

He sued the Scottish Government – and won – over claims that its internal inquiry was biased by the fact that the civil servant put in change of the investigation had previous contact with the complainants. There are now several concurrent inquiries into what went on, including those being conducted by the Scottish Parliament and the Information Commissioner’s Office, who are pursuing another Salmond allegation: that the details of the inquiry into his conduct were deliberately leaked.

Seemingly on the front foot, earlier this week he offered to end the Nationalists’ “uncivil war” whilst urging the First Minister to start pushing hard for a second referendum. This reflects a longer-standing split within the SNP between gradualists and ‘fundies’ – Salmond has gradually become the de facto leader of the latter group since losing office in 2014.

Whilst Sturgeon does appear to have been pushed into playing the ‘indyref’ card in a bid to distract from her party’s internal divisions, a bullish British Government doesn’t appear inclined to grant her one. Theresa May reportedly issued her “most strident rejection yet” of any such demand, whilst the Times reports that ministers are going to be playing hardball with the Scottish Government henceforth. “There is going to be a newfound hardness to negotiations with the Nats from now on”, according to one of their sources.

Moreover Alyn Smith, a Nationalist MEP, has said on the record that the party is not yet ready for a new referendum. Not only has it not yet properly addressed the issues which bedevilled its 2014 campaign – a much-vaunted ‘Growth Commission’ has sunk without trace – but Brexit also throws up new challenges, such as the prospect of a hard Anglo-Scottish border.

This latter fact is why, as we noted in 2017, some in the SNP believe that a soft Brexit is absolutely essential to keep independence on the table.

Londonderry attacks spark allegations of ‘Brexit violence’

The spectre of dissident Republican terrorism re-emerged in Northern Ireland this week after a car bomb was detonated outside a courthouse in Londonderry. Two vans were subsequently hijacked by masked men shortly afterwards, leading to concerns about the possibility of a sustained campaign.

Although Karen Bradley urged people to refrain from drawing casual links to Brexit, Lord Adonis was swift to blame the Government for being too distracted by it to give Northern Irish issues the attention they needed.

The Financial Times reports that the attacks are being blamed on the ‘New IRA’, which formed in 2012 and has already killed a couple of prison officers. Apparently the police received a ten-minute warning about Saturday’s bomb.

Politicians from the Democratic Unionist Party have also urged Bradley to clarify comments she made suggesting that the defeat of May’s Withdrawal Agreement would threaten the legal basis of peace funding to the Province.

In other Ulster news, Margaret Ritchie has said that she doesn’t expect any significant exodus of members from the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) when it formally announces plans to merge with Fianna Fail, a major party in the Republic. According to the Irish Independent the new ‘partnership’ will reportedly involve FF canvassing for the SDLP whilst it continues to compete under its own name. The two parties will also collaborate more closely on policy.