Proxy war between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon 'threatens to rip apart SNP and cost it election', says former special adviser

Alex Bell, a former special adviser and defence witness at Mr Salmond's trial, said "the two camps can only tear each other apart".

Alex Salmond has alleged there was a conspiracy against him 
Alex Salmond has alleged there was a conspiracy against him  Credit: Getty Images Europe

The "proxy war" between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon after he was cleared of 13 sex offences threatens to rip apart the SNP and cost it next year's Holyrood election, one of his former special advisers has warned.

Alex Bell said Mr Salmond is preparing to set out the details of an alleged conspiracy against him orchestrated at the top of the Scottish Government.

Mr Bell, who appeared at Mr Salmond's trial as a defence witness, said "the two camps can only tear each other apart" over the conspiracy claims as they wrestle for control of the party.

Already "shaky" on policy and "weak" on independence, he said the SNP and Ms Sturgeon could now face "questions of character and judgment."

Mr Bell, who was Mr Salmond's head of policy, said the ongoing civil war could cost the SNP power next year if Labour revives under Keir Starmer's leadership, but the Nationalists could be saved by the "unknown virus factor."

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon in November 2014, when she succeeded him as SNP leader and First Minister Credit: PA

On Ms Sturgeon's side are Peter Murrell, the SNP's chief executive and her husband, her special advisers and "just about every female MSP", he claimed.

But Mr Salmond is said to have the backing of senior veterans and former ministers Alex Neil and Kenny MacAskill, along with "current sidekick" Campbell Gunn, a former Scottish Government spin doctor who is handling his media.

Mr MacAskill, who is now East Lothian MP, said "a few" people in the SNP had acted "despicably" and should resign.

Writing in the Scotsman, he said the resignations should take place "quietly under the cover of coronavirus" and the furore would not cause lasting damage to the independence campaign.

The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish government civil servants and officials.

Mr Salmond told the court the allegations were "deliberate fabrications for a political purpose" and had been aimed at preventing him from making a political comeback.

His legal team wanted to show the jury a series of text messages they claimed showed the Scottish Government had orchestrated the criminal prosecution to “discredit” him, but were prevented by the trial judge.

They included a message from one of Mr Salmond's accusers that claimed he was intent on "bringing down Nicola on the way." Gordon Jackson QC, his lawyer, claimed any of his accusers had “encouraged others to make false complaints” to the police.

Mr Jackson told the jury of eight women and five men Mr Salmond could be a "bad boy" who behaved inappropriately, but was not a criminal.

They found the former SNP leader not guilty on 12 counts of sexual assault and reached a not proven verdict on one count of intent to rape.

Alex Salmond has promised to set out the details of a conspiracy against him Credit: AFP

Writing in the Dundee Courier, Mr Bell outlined the alleged conspiracy theory against Mr Salmond, which begins when Mark McDonald, a former Children’s Minister, resigned over sleazy messages he sent to a woman.  

Senior SNP figures then hoped, it is alleged, that the subsequent Scottish Government internal inquiry into sexual complaints, launched by Ms Sturgeon, would provoke someone to complain about Mr Salmond.  

The theory continues "when Salmond attempts to negotiate with Sturgeon" in three meetings and two phone calls, the details of which have never been disclosed.

"We shall hear a lot more about that in the Salmond fightback yet to come," Mr Bell said.

"Their avatars are Angus Robertson for Sturgeon, and Joanna Cherry for Salmond, both of whom want the nomination for Edinburgh Central at next year’s Holyrood election.

Warning that "the two camps can only tear each other apart", he said Mr Salmond's character had already been "smeared" and Ms Sturgeon could end up being "trashed on a theme of 'who knew what and when'."

Mr MacAskill wrote: "There do need to be resignations within the SNP. A few have acted despicably and many of us feel a breach of trust.

"To whom do these individuals work and for what purpose are they acting? They cannot remain and a few others now face question marks over why they are in the positions they hold, as it certainly hasn't been on ability."