he biggest barrier to understanding the Salmond-Sturgeon row is to try and understand it. It is impossible to do so in all its glorious technicolour tartan majesty. Like the most breathtaking of Highlands scenery, there’s just too much to take in. Contemplating it is a bit like the old joke about the Schleswig-Holstein question in the nineteenth century. According to Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary at the time: “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”
The allegations and counter allegations, the legalese, the obfuscations and obstructions... it is pretty clear that probably only the main protagonists in this drama have a grip on the detail, and maybe then not all of it. When big political arguments get “procedural”, the public tend to lose interest. When, during his six-hour evidence session to a Scottish parliamentary inquiry, Alex Salmond started talking about “sisting” (at least that’s what I thought he said), I fear he may have left his audience behind. Still, the stakes are high, as there is a chance that the sheer weight of allegations will push the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, out of her job, and with her fall the end of the current dominance of the Scottish National Party at the May elections, and a setback for the cause of independence. So it matters. For that reason it may be worth the risk of going mad, and trying to see what is actually going on.