On the 23rd March 2020, the news that former leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond was acquitted of all his sexual assault charges came as a significant shock to the nation. This outcome for Salmond – in the recent aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s prison sentence – was unexpected and wholly unwelcome for many.
Alex Salmond, who served as leader of the SNP from 2004-2014, resigned in August 2018 after allegations of sexual assault and sexual abuse found their way into the public domain. Previously denying all 14 accusations made against him, including two charges of intention to rape, Salmond rebuffed them as ‘fabrications for a political purpose.’ Described by Alex Prentice QC as a ‘sexual predator’, and widely vilified by the UK press over his conduct, Salmond walked out of court a free man. However, whilst Salmond may have prevailed in the court of law, he certainly will not prevail in the court of public opinion.
The news of Salmond’s acquittal comes just weeks after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein made headlines once again with his 23-year sentence in prison. Weinstein’s spectacular fall from grace, culminating in his recent positive test for coronavirus in prison, came after years of abusing his position as the founder of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company to assault young women and use the power of the ‘casting couch’ to further the careers of aspiring actresses. He has been accused of several accounts of rape amidst a plethora of other sexual offences over at least a 30-year period. Oscar-winning actresses Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow are in the company of many other accusers of Weinstein’s misconduct, and in recent years, the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have gathered significant momentum across the globe.
But what do both of these cases say about the state of gender affairs? The reassurance that Harvey Weinstein is securely behind bars should provide a source of comfort; however, the acquittal of Alex Salmond presents something far more disturbing. Whilst the verdict was met with displeasure by many, SNP MP Kenny MacAskill tweeted how he was ‘delighted for Alex Salmond’ and expected that ‘some resignations [were] now required.’
Of course, with the international consequences of the coronavirus pandemic splashed across front pages, gender issues and other news stories perceived as ‘minor’ will undoubtedly be forced to take the back seat. But if the Salmond and Weinstein cases tell us anything, it is that despite this temporary intermission, the conversation surrounding sexual abuse and the rejection of virulent masculinity will no longer be allowed to fall back into obscurity. It seems obvious that gendered action will be subdued during the pandemic, as the nation’s efforts turn towards flattening the curve of Covid-19’s spread and remaining at home; however, I am sure that the sentiment will not. These long periods of quarantine and self-isolation, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tougher action announced on the 23rd March, may be the perfect opportunity to stimulate and reignite conversations surrounding gender parity and the important debates surrounding sexual assault.
Image: Alex Salmond via Creative Commons