Jim Sillars, the SNP’s former deputy leader, claims the rot at the core of the independence movement is so extreme that it may have to be replaced by a new ‘untainted’ party. He is certain that Alex Salmond’s forthcoming keenly anticipated book, will be like a “volcanic eruption” for the SNP.  But the curtain raiser for the nationalists’ unfolding civil war is the committee of inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment complaints against Nicola Sturgeon’s predecessor as Party Leader and First Minister.

When Alex Salmond emerged from the High Court in Edinburgh a free man, his brief comments to the waiting press left no-one in any doubt; here was a person hellbent on revenge, a man posing more danger to the SNP government than the dreaded coronavirus. He had senior officials in the Scottish government and senior figures in the party he used to lead, firmly in his sights. Pointedly stating: “There was certain evidence that I would have liked to have seen led in this trial but for a variety of reasons we weren’t able to do so.” He went on to say: “At some point that information, facts and that evidence will see the light of day…” His belligerent tone must have sent shivers down a number of very important spines at Holyrood and Bute House. 

Salmond and his closest allies believe he was framed with the intention of preventing his political comeback. They are convinced he was the target of a conspiracy engineered to secure his downfall. Their knives are being carefully sharpened for the civil war that has already erupted within the higher echelons of the SNP. Joanna Cherry MP has said that “serious questions now arise about the background to these cases.” Alex Neil and Kenny MacAskill, both former SNP Scottish Government cabinet secretaries, said they believed the civil service and the Crown Office may have been involved in a “political conspiracy,” and that “resignations” were now required. 

As the main target of these accusations, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed the whole conspiracy theory is “a heap of nonsense.” But Salmond will point an accusing finger at her when he testifies under oath to the committee of inquiry at Holyrood. He intends to reveal dramatic evidence of the conspiracy, naming names that were withheld during his trial. He already has a ruling from his successful judicial review in the Court of Session, which said that the way the Scottish government had handled its investigation into complaints against him were unlawful, procedurally unfair and tainted by apparent bias, awarding the former First Minister £512,000 in legal costs. Alex Salmond will also vent his spleen against Leslie Evans, Scotland’s top civil servant. He called on her to resign after his Court of Session victory. 

Following his three years of turmoil, which could have ended in a lengthy jail term, Alex Salmond is out for blood. But, the souring of the relationship between Salmond and Sturgeon will not come as a surprise to political historians. History is peppered with similar ugly spats, some of which led to actual bloodshed. Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America, about whom the musical ‘Hamilton’ has become a Broadway and West End hit, was a serial duellist. Hamilton’s longstanding political enemy was Aaron Burr, a candidate for the Vice Presidency in 1800. Burr was incensed about a  newspaper article in which it was claimed that Hamilton had insulted him at a private dinner. Burr demanded an apology from Hamilton and when Hamilton typically refused to back down, challenged him to a duel.  On this very day, 216 years ago - July 11, 1804, the two political foes fired at each other. It is said that Hamilton fired to miss on purpose, content that honour had been served by fighting the duel. Burr, however, took careful aim and mortally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day, aged only 47. Thankfully, the concept of an early morning duel between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon is highly unlikely.

Another political feud with fatal repercussions was the notorious rivalry between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Concerned at Trotsky’s opposition to his leadership and strategy, Stalin engineered his expulsion from the party in 1927 and his exile from Russia in 1928. Fearing that Stalin was determined to assassinate him, Trotsky fled to Mexico. He lived in a heavily fortified house in Mexico City, but soon agreed to tutor a young Spanish communist student, Ramón Mercader, who claimed he was a firm believer in Trotsky’s vision of worldwide revolution. The student was, in fact, an NKVD agent and trained assassin. He gained Trotsky’s trust, then one morning plunged an icepick into his forehead. Trotsky died of shock a day later. With ‘The Alex Salmond Show’ a regular fixture on RT, the Kremlin’s English language TV station, it is unlikely that Vladimir Putin will be aiming an icepick in Alex’s direction anytime soon. 

In more recent times, notorious political rivalries became the subject of much speculation and endless newspaper articles, none more so than the famous clash between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Former close allies, Blair and Brown were thrust into the leadership of the Labour Party following the sudden death of John Smith in 1994.  The two met for supper in the Granita restaurant in Islington in May 1994 and allegedly struck a deal that led ultimately to Blair becoming Prime Minister and Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Granita Pact apparently included an agreement that Blair would, in due course, step aside from the role of Prime Minister and hand over power to Brown. The two fell out when Brown felt that Blair had reneged on his side of the bargain, although Brown did eventually take over from his rival, paving the way for a Labour defeat in 2010 and the advent of Britain’s first Tory/Lib-Dem coalition government. 

When the coronavirus pandemic finally subsides, the bitter feud that has festered between Nicola Sturgeon and her former mentor Alex Salmond will erupt into a full-blown uncivil war that will make the Blair -v- Brown squabble seem like a playground tiff. The ultimate victor will be neither Salmond nor Sturgeon, as the SNP implodes against a background of rancorous infighting and malicious insults. Jackson Carlaw will have to clean the bloodstains from the walls of Bute House if he takes up residence there.