Former Scottish leader charged in sex harassment probe

Edinburgh (AFP) –


Former Scottish leader and pro-independence figurehead Alex Salmond has been arrested and charged in a probe over allegations of sexual harassment, police said on Thursday.

Salmond, who became Scottish first minister in 2007 and took Scotland to the brink of independence in a historic referendum in 2014 before stepping down, is to appear in court later Thursday.

"We can confirm that a 64-year-old man has been arrested and charged," a spokesperson for Police Scotland said in a statement released in response to reports about the arrest.

A report will be sent to the local prosecutors' office, the force added, which will decide whether to proceed with the case against him.

Police began probing two harassment allegations against Salmond after complaints were formally raised with the Scottish government last January.

He has fiercely denied the claims by two female members of staff dating back to 2013 when he was still in office, and accused someone in the Scottish government of leaking details of the accusations.

Salmond took legal action against the government -- now led by his former Scottish National Party (SNP) colleague Nicola Sturgeon -- over how it handled the complaints process against him.

Earlier this month he won his judicial review in Scotland's highest civil court after the government conceded it had acted unlawfully while investigating the harassment claims.

But the police's separate criminal investigation continued, leading to his arrest.

- 'The dream shall never die' -

The feisty politician, who hosts a weekly political chat show on Russia television channel RT, has been the face of Scottish nationalism for decades.

In 1990 he took over leadership of the SNP, steering the party towards the political centre just as Britain's New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was promising greater devolution to the home nations.

In the first elections for the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999, the SNP lost out to Labour and Salmond quit as leader.

He said his decision was "forever", but he was re-elected in 2004 saying: "I changed my mind."

In 2007, Salmond became the first SNP first minister, leading a minority government for four years before sweeping to a majority victory in 2011.

That win paved the way for the 2014 independence referendum, which he spearheaded in typically ebullient fashion, urging Scots to "break the shackles" of the 307-year-old union with England.

But after 55 percent voted to stay part of the United Kingdom, Salmond stepped down as first minister and party leader -- vowing that the dream of more power for Scotland would nonetheless live on.

"For me as leader, my time is nearly over. But for Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die," he said at the time.

Following the emergence of the harassment allegations last August, Salmond resigned from the SNP.

- 'explosive temper' -

Salmond's charisma has proved hugely effective through his career, particularly in the long campaign for independence.

But it also disguised what aides called an "explosive temper" and a talent for the scathing political put-down.

His supporters praise his unflagging determination and his political know-how, while his opponents brand him arrogant and misogynistic with a penchant for populism.

Many on both sides agree that he is one of the most talented politicians of his generation.

Sociable in public, Salmond is discreet about his private life. His wife Moira is 17 years older than he is and is only rarely seen by his side. The couple have no children.

His passions are horse racing, good wine and curry, along with football and that Scottish invention -- golf.

Salmond also likes a good singalong. His favourite tune is "Scots Wha Hae" -- an ode to an epic victory against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago.