A senior SNP politician has called for an independent inquiry into how the party handled complaints against Alex Salmond and said his place in its history “must be restored to the prominence it deserves”.
Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry said she was “very pleased” Mr Salmond had been acquitted of all the charges against him, and said those who know and have met him “did not recognise the man described in the evidence led for the Crown”.
Ms Cherry, the SNP’s spokesperson for justice and home affairs at Westminster, was also one of the first leading party figures to hit out at the internal handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond.
She said: “Some of the evidence that has come to light both in the judicial review and at this trial raises very serious questions over the process that was employed within the Scottish Government to investigate the alleged complaints against Mr Salmond and I am sorry to say some of the evidence also raises serious question marks over how these complaints were handled by the SNP.”
Ms Cherry added: “There should also be an independent inquiry into how the SNP dealt with these allegations and an inquiry into our internal complaints procedure which many members have expressed significant dissatisfaction with.”
The MP said it “goes without saying that Mr Salmond should be allowed to rejoin the party without delay, if that is what he wishes to do”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she respected the verdict and said she expects “further discussion around this issue in due course”. However, she said coronavirus is her only focus for the time being.
“The court has reached a verdict and that must be respected,” she said. “I am a strong believer in a vigorous, robust, independent judicial process where complaints of this nature, if they come forward, are properly and thoroughly investigated, due process takes its course and a court reaches a decision, and that’s what has happened today.
“I have no doubt that there will be further discussion around this issue in due course, in the fullness of time – and I will welcome that. But that time is not now. This country faces a crisis right now bigger than anything we have faced before and as First Minister my duty to the public is to do everything I can to focus 100 per cent on steering us through that crisis, and that is what I intend to do.”
Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who is now SNP MP for East Lothian, said he was delighted for Mr Salmond, adding that resignations were “now required”.
Meanwhile, former SNP depute leadership candidate Chris McEleny, who sits on Inverclyde Council, paid tribute to a “true statesman who has never let Scotland down” as he shared an image of himself shaking hands with the former first minister.
Mr McEleny called on the SNP’s business convener to take “immediate action in suspending staff members that the trial heard held information about false sexual assault allegations… to be used if needed for political damage”.
“This is a disgusting action and it is an affront to people across Scotland that have had to deal with genuine crimes,” he said.
“An independent inquiry must be commissioned by the party to find out who these individuals were, who condoned their actions and each and every one of them must be rooted out of our party, and reported to Police Scotland where deemed appropriate.”
Rape Crisis Scotland highlighted the toll of the trial on sexual assault survivors, who it said had been following the process closely.
In a statement, the charity said: “We fear that the nature of the defence in this case, which focused on trivialising behaviours that would amount to sexual assault, risks turning the clock back on any progress we have made moving towards a better conversation about sexual violence.
“In amongst the noise we cannot forget that it takes a great deal of courage and bravery to report any kind of sexual crime.
“The vast majority of survivors don’t even see a court room, let alone justice, and today like every day we stand firm in our belief in survivors.”
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said there were “some very serious questions” facing the SNP, the Scottish Government and first minister Nicola Sturgeon following the outcome of the trial.
He said: “The court case may be over, but for them this is just the beginning.
“Clearly, there is still a lack of information which needs to be fully interrogated, and the Scottish Parliament inquiry will provide that opportunity.
“This remains a national political scandal with profound questions of integrity for the first minister and her SNP government.
“However, that opportunity must be deferred for the time being while all our efforts and resources concentrate on Covid-19.”
Scottish Labour equalities spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “We wish to acknowledge that this has undoubtedly been a difficult and extremely traumatic time for all involved.
“Services are already under pressure today in Scotland, supporting victims and survivors, and have experienced increased demand as this high-profile trial has hit the headlines.
“The verdict of this trial does not take away from the serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s handling of this.
“We would expect questions about this to be fully explored during parliamentary scrutiny.”