Salmond, Sturgeon and why The Spectator went to court

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

Did Nicola Sturgeon lie to the Scottish parliament? A Holyrood committee into the now infamous Alex Salmond affair has been looking into what she knew and when she knew it. In its possession is Salmond’s explosive written evidence, which contradicts her account. So who is telling the truth? This SNP-chaired inquiry has been in no rush to find the answer. Last month, it made the extraordinary decision not to publish the Salmond submission at all — blaming legal problems. There’s a risk, it said, that his account might identify some of the women who complained against him, thereby defying a court order to protect anonymity. Without the key evidence, its inquiry would run into the ground. All very convenient. And questionable. The refusal to publish vital submissions fits a depressing trend. Free speech is already under attack by the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill, and journalists trying to get to the bottom of the Sturgeon/Salmond mystery are told there are ill-defined legal constraints on what can be reported. In an SNP-dominated parliament, there’s no means of appeal. The only way out was to go to the High Court and ask for clarity. It quite rightly wants to preserve anonymity for the women — but was its ruling ever intended to halt a political investigation? Challenges are possible, but cost a lot of money. Who would be crazy enough to blow cash on a court case with an unknown chance of success?

Step forward Andrew Neil, chairman of The Spectator and holder of the pen that hovers over the cheque books. So we went to the High Court in Edinburgh, and last week we successfully persuaded the court to clarify its ruling. Lady Dorrian made it clear that the court had no intention of obstructing a parliamentary inquiry or stopping a free press from doing its job — the Salmond evidence can now be published and the whole story told. There was some muttering, afterwards, about the ‘London-based Spectator’ interfering in Scottish affairs. Set aside our disproportionate number of Scottish readers. We were set up in 1828 by a Dundonian — R.S. Rintoul — to campaign for political reform and transparency. His weekly, now the world’s oldest, this week welcomed its 100,000th subscriber. Our lawsuit was as good a way as any to celebrate.

Charles Moore gets in touch with a point that occurred to him when he was editor (aged 27). Sales, he thought then, could treble to 100,000 without the magazine losing its essential character. But could The Spectator really go much higher — say, towards 200,000 — without becoming conformist and formulaic? It’s a good question. When Boris Johnson took sales past 60,000, there was a mixed reaction among colleagues. ‘I can remember when circulation was 14,000,’ Mark Amory, then the literary editor, said. ‘And everybody read it.’

The speed of Britain’s vaccine progress means it won’t be long until 47-year-olds like me get the call. Having had the virus, I’m not so sure my need is greatest — but I’ll certainly take it. With one reservation, though: there will be thousands of over-eighties all over Europe who will die from the virus over the next few weeks. They will perish for want of a vaccine that Britain is set to give to the young and healthy. My 80-year-old father-in-law is awaiting a cancer operation in Stockholm, and will now have to take his chances with those hospital-acquired infections. If I could FedEx him a vaccine, I would. Ursula von der Leyen recently compared Brexit Britain to a ‘speedboat’, able to vaccinate at greater speed than a 27-member EU ‘tanker’. She has a point. But once we’ve protected those most at risk, might our vaccine-laden speedboat nip over the Channel — or Irish Sea — and help our neighbours? There was much about the European Union that I loved: specifically, feeling part of the same family. I hoped we’d keep a strong sense of that after Brexit. I still hope.

My family has expanded recently, in a way I tried to prevent. For some time my three children have wanted a kitten, which I put down to a form of lockdown madness. But I was outvoted over breakfast (four to one) and am now pounced on every night by a two-month-old tabby. We had a name — Apollo — until finding out that he is a she. Now we’re stumped. Suggestions welcome.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments