WHEN Alex Salmond left the High Court in Edinburgh on Monday after being cleared of sexual assault charges, he wasted no time reviving his former role as father of the nation.

After thanking his supporters and teasing the media with the promise of conspiratorial revelations to come, he turned to the coronavirus crisis.

“Go home, take care of your families and God help us all,” he said.

The sight of the former First Minister talking as if he was back in Bute House has doubtless had folk in the Scottish Government and the SNP muttering God help us all ever since.

Mr Salmond is a man on a mission, and it is not a peace mission.

He believes senior figures at the top of the government and party he once led conspired to stop him ever returning to frontline politics by the dirtiest means possible.

Angry at him for exposing their incompetence in a civil legal action, and fearful of him eclipsing Nicola Sturgeon and her baby steps to independence, they made a concerted effort to do him in, goes the theory.

The culmination of this alleged plot within Ms Sturgeon’s royal court was his prosecution on 13 counts, including an alleged attempted rape.

Again according to this theory, Mr Salmond’s blanket acquittal not only proves the whole thing was a malicious confection, it also demands the sternest retribution.

In his statement, Mr Salmond said he would ensure the evidence would “see the light of the day”, but because of coronavirus “it won’t be this day”.

Till then, he is doing the statesman-like thing and banging out a book.

But while Bagpuss has gone quiet, his friends have been making a din.

MSP Alex Neil has called for a judge-led inquiry into a potential state conspiracy against Mr Salmond, who he added should really be back in Holyrood raising the tone.

Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said some in the SNP had been “despicable” and there would be a “reckoning” down the line.

MP Joanna Cherry QC said an independent inquiry was needed into the SNP’s procedures, and took a pointed swipe at the SNP’s chief executive, who happens to be Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell.

In a nice comic touch, she followed this up with a newspaper article extolling the virtue of “working across party lines” and building alliances.

Others have cited the acquittals as proof the alleged conspiracy exists, confidently declaring the jurors agreed with Mr Salmond there had been fabrications and exaggerations.

In fact, we know no such thing.

Only the jury knows what went on in its deliberations - what evidence and arguments rang true, what was dismissed, and what reasoning led them to their conclusions - and they are not allowed to tell us, and we in the media are not allowed to ask.

It is a black box, inscrutable.

All we have are the verdicts and the declaration they were “by majority”.

Incidentally, under Scots law some juries can conceivably return not guilty verdicts even if most of the jurors think there was a crime.

That is because eight of the original 15 jurors must be in favour of a guilty verdict to overturn the presumption of innocence. This remains true even if some jurors drop out.

In a 13-member jury, say, which was the size of Mr Salmond’s on the final day, six not guilty verdicts can stymie seven guilty ones, because the threshold of eight is not met.

In such a case, the jurors “shall be deemed to have returned a verdict of not guilty,” according to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.

I’m not saying this happened in Mr Salmond’s case. But it is a reminder that juries can be curious beasts, and it is unwise to second guess them.

Those going around saying the jurors verified Mr Salmond’s extended conspiracy theory - little of which was actually aired in court for legal reasons - should pause for thought.

Nevertheless, that is the conspiracy Mr Salmond’s circle are promoting: that he was the victim of high-level scheming by those he once trusted.

It is polarising the SNP, forcing people to take a side. Are they in Mr Salmond’s camp or Ms Sturgeon’s?

There can be no half-measures.

For like all conspiracy theories, it demands total loyalty of its adherents.

Wherever it goes, the believers must follow, even when MSPs start babbling about the “organs of the state” being in on the plot.

When former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan was toppled by a sex scandal in 2004, he suggested MI5 may have been beavering in the background.

How long, I wonder, before the spooks enter the Salmond mythology too.

The two camps, as Mr Salmond’s former adviser Alex Bell this week predicted, are now about to “tear each other apart”, damaging the SNP as it heads into a Holyrood election year, and with it the independence cause.

This would be off-putting at the best of times, but it is particularly repellent in a national emergency, yet that is where we are. Voters will remember.

If Mr Salmond’s gang can nip and harry Ms Sturgeon to the other side of the coronavirus crisis, during which she is refusing to retaliate, it is not hard to imagine her being so physically and psychologically shattered that she gives up the fight.

Perhaps she has given up already. Almost as striking as the relish with which some in the SNP are attacking the First Minister is the absence of people defending her.

Where are her cheerleaders?

If she thinks it would look bad form to have her cabinet ministers writing opinion pieces right now, has she no other colleagues to call on?

No backbenchers or former ministers ready to stick up for her?

If she doesn’t, she’s in trouble.

Mr Salmond has a small troupe of strident supporters, not an army.

But in the absence of any resistance, they are able to take potshots at Ms Sturgeon willy-nilly and are filling the political news vacuum created by coronavirus.

And Mr Salmond not only has a book in the works. Let’s not forget he also has a TV show. What mischief he could yet have with that.

A dignified silence will not protect Ms Sturgeon. She will be damaged if nothing is done. If Mr Salmond’s conspiracy theory is left unchallenged over the coming months, it will take on the status of fact for many in her own party. For some, it already has.

Without a dramatic change, such as a complainer waiving her anonymity to explain the process, Ms Sturgeon’s leadership is surely in peril.