Scotland’s former first minister, who once took the country to the brink of independence from the United Kingdom, has resigned from his party after being accused of sexual harassment.
Alex Salmond, a towering force in British politics for more than three decades, resigned from the Scottish National Party on Thursday amid an investigation into claims he harassed two members of staff when he was first minister in 2013.
He said he was quitting to prevent division in the party, but said he rejected “any suggestion of criminality” and is suing the SNP government over the way it handled the complaints process against him.
“For my part I have always thought it a very poor idea to suspend any party member on the basis of complains and allegations,” Salmond said in a statement. “Innocent until proven guilty is central to our concept of justice.”
However, he has been accused of “dragging Scotland into the gutter” for launching a crowdfunding effort to help pay for his legal costs. He asked supporters for $65,000 (£50,000) to help cover the judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. He has already surpassed that target.
Rhoda Grant, a member of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Labour party, said: “That an independently wealthy man with his celebrity and political power is to raise legal fees through a crowdfunder for a case ultimately linked to sexual harassment is unbelievable.
“It suggests that he is sending a signal to those who have made allegations that he has the upper hand,” she added. “Decent people will rightly be furious that he is to raise money to take the Scottish Government to court. Alex Salmond is abusing his power, and dragging Scotland into the gutter.”
Jack McConnell, Salmond’s predecessor as Scotland’s leader, urged people to instead donate to charities which help victims of sexual assault and harassment. Nicola Sturgeon, the current first minister who took over from Salmond in 2014, shared a link on her Twitter account promoting Women’s Aid.
In a statement on Twitter, Sturgeon said she felt a “huge sadness about this whole situation” and paid tribute to her “friend and mentor for almost 30 years”
But she added: “The hard fact remains that two complaints were received by the Scottish Government that could not be ignored or swept under the carpet. Complaints must be investigated without fear or favor, regardless of the seniority of the person involved.”
Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper, which first reported the allegations last week, claims one of the two staff members accused an alcohol-fueled Salmond of making unwanted advances to her while at the first minister’s official residence Bute House in Edinburgh in December 2013.
After being investigated by the government’s permanent secretary Leslie Evans for eight months, the complaints were subsequently passed to the police.
Salmond first became leader of the SNP in 1990 and served for 10 years, during which time the Scottish Parliament was established.
He returned to the role and was elected first minister in 2007 when the SNP swept to power. He stepped down seven years later after leading, and losing, the campaign for an independent Scotland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report