Sturgeon’s Humble Apology Vs. Salmond’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien”: Sexism at Its Best

The animosity between the first minister and her mentor is a complicated one, though there is something dark crawling behind the curtain as an influential man is railing his power against his female opponent

It is crime story written by a masterful writer: the altercation between Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her former guru, Alex Salmond, over the handling of allegations of sexual abuse against him. The crime story is so eye-catching that it positively summons even the flies on the wall to take sides. And while it may not be just to expect a female leader to deal with such accusations more skillfully than a man in the same position, the expectation undeniably is still there – and the first minister herself has admitted that the Scottish government’s response was disorganized and disheartened the complainants.

Meanwhile, it is hard to avoid finding a trace of ancient archetypes at work. The SNP’s inner circle reminds me of a messed up family where the father figure, Alex, rages against the unappreciative daughter, Nicola, who has dismissed to afford him the protection he believes to be his fair treatment. She responded with an outstanding performance before the Holyrood inquiry this week, protesting against any such expectation on his part: “As first minister, I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and his connections to get what he wants.”

Her words were exactly what any woman wants to hear in the age of #MeToo, yet the first minister also made a telling admission. Dismissing Salmond’s argument that she offered to step in on the mentor’s behalf, she admitted that he might have taken the wrong impression: “I was perhaps trying to let a longstanding friend and colleague down gently, and maybe I did it too gently.” This is an absolutely stereotypical feminine way of behaving, a woman taking the blame for a man’s feelings, and it happens all the time in unequal relationships.

Two years ago, Nicola Sturgeon’s instant response when Salmond told her exactly what he was accused of was a bolt out of the blue, and she thinks back on that moment this week and said that the surprising story prompted “a maelstrom of emotions”. The feeling of panic may go some way towards explaining why her handling of the complaints brought against Salmond by two women was so crude, leading to a successful judicial review of the Scottish government’s inquiry. Alex Salmond was granted more than £500,000 of public money in costs.

Still, it has to be mentioned that Salmond’s big disclosure came entirely out of nowhere. Even before that divisive meeting at Sturgeon’s home, she had a lingering terror, speculation, apprehension that allegations about Salmond’s misconduct towards women might come into view. Five months before the meeting, in November 2017, she had been told about alleged events involving the former first minister at Edinburgh airport more than ten years ago.

Weeks before the meeting, the American actor Alyssa Milano started to ask women on social media to use the #MeToo hashtag if they had ever been sexually abused or assaulted. The hashtag movement received massive publicity all around the world, and I still cannot figure out why a smart political superstar like Sturgeon did not become aware of the grave risk when her former guru’s alleged misconduct appeared to fit an emerging and prominent pattern. Her flip-flop is one of several reasons why Sturgeon’s judgment has been called into question, but she has at the very least acknowledged her past mistakes.

“Two women were failed and taxpayers’ money was lost,” she apologized before the inquiry committee on Wednesday. A crime had happened and the sad truth is that it is the woman who has apologized for a “dreadful, catastrophic mistake” in her government’s investigation, not the man who’s erasing his shadow behind the curtain.

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