IN the end, every politician’s career is reduced to moments: little episodes of triumph or defeat that define them in the popular imagination – which makes the press conference Alex Salmond held about accusations of sexual harassment against him all the more significant. Whatever happens next, that scrappy gathering in a tent by the side of the A904 emphasised just how far Mr Salmond has travelled from the main road of power. It was a reminder of his diminution; it was the showman after the show has ended.

As for what the former First Minister actually said at the press conference, we should all be feeling some sympathy for him, as well as a large dose of frustration at what look like inconsistencies. In his official statement, Mr Salmond said he had not been allowed to properly challenge the case against him – “I have not been allowed to see the evidence,” he said. And yet in the same statement he said the complaints were patently ridiculous. So, which is it? How can he say the complaints are ridiculous if he has not seen them? He either knows what the complaints are, or he doesn’t.

Assuming he doesn’t, Mr Salmond is right to object to how the Scottish Government’s complaints process is working. It is one of the basic principles of natural justice that an accused person should know the details of the case against him or her, and who is making it, and yet it would appear Mr Salmond has been given neither of those things.

Increasingly, and sadly, this is how modern complaints procedures work, including it would seem the Scottish Government’s. But we should roll back on it before it’s too late. Anyone accused of anything should know the facts, the people involved, and they should be given a proper chance to defend themselves. Alex Salmond may be a hard man to feel sorry for – and his alpha-male personality around colleagues, journalists, and others may make him hard to like at times – but as an apparent victim of a flawed process, he deserves some sympathy.

There are other uncomfortable truths we’ve learned from this affair, the first being how far some of Mr Salmond’s followers are prepared to go in demonstrating their loyalty. In the immediate aftermath of the press conference, some rushed to social media to suggest Mr Salmond was the victim of a Unionist/MI5/UK Government plot; others suggested, wearyingly, that the BBC was using the furore to undermine Nicola Sturgeon. There was also some naked racism in the suggestion that all of it was happening because the civil servant in charge of the process, Leslie Evans, is a non-Scot and therefore non-us. The comments read like despatches from the Planet Loopy-de-Loo in the constellation of Ridiculous.

More worryingly, there were others – including women it must be said – who turned on Mr Salmond’s accusers, calling them liars or suggesting even that they might have “thrown themselves” at the former First Minister. There were also questions asked about why it had taken “so long” (five years) for the complaints to be made, the implication being that complaints that are not made immediately might be fake. But didn’t we deal with all that kind of rubbish as part of the Me Too movement? Isn’t it sad that it’s all being spread again by supporters of independence in the name of defending their departed leader?

There are other interesting lessons to be drawn from all this about the SNP and the relationship between Mr Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. On the party generally, it’s clear it now has only two strategies on public relations and any crisis: total control and total silence. The party has been known in recent years for its cast-iron unity (in public at least) and, remarkably, it has held. But as the Salmond claims emerged, the machine went into lock-down and the press department refused to answer any calls or emails from journalists. That is a dereliction of a party’s responsibilities, especially in the face of what could reasonably be called a national crisis: a former First Minister suing the government of the current one.

Then there’s the relationship between those two people, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon. Both Mr Salmond and Leslie Evans were at pains to suggest the First Minister was not part of the process, but we know that’s a legal fiction at best – and it is one that will get harder to maintain, as the tortuous procedural reasons for not suspending Mr Salmond demonstrate.

As Ms Sturgeon herself suggested in her short statement, she and Mr Salmond have also been friends and confederates for years, even if the relationship has been under considerable strain for some time – firstly because of Alex Salmond’s show for the Russian broadcaster RT; and now because of his decision to take legal action against the Scottish Government. The accusations against her old mentor have also obviously put the First Minister in an awkward position – don’t forget all those times she defended Mr Salmond against accusations of sexism: the notorious Fringe joke for example, or the time he told the MP Anna Soubry to “behave yourself, woman”.

Ms Sturgeon will also be aware of the damage the accusations against her predecessor could do to an already divided party and movement. It was bad enough that Mr Salmond has been shooting his mouth off about a second referendum, but the new crisis makes the problem even worse. As we know, Ms Sturgeon has been aware of the claims against Mr Salmond for several months so no doubt she would have been factoring them in to her strategising, but even so the rapidly diminishing prospect of a second vote on independence has diminished even further. A quotation from a comedy sketch set in a pet shop and starring John Cleese may even be appropriate.

But what if I’m wrong and it does happen? What if there is a second referendum on Scottish independence? Well, this latest crisis, however it pans out, means that Alex Salmond – the leader of the Yes movement of 2014, the man who took Scotland so close to independence, and still the pre-eminent hero of the faithful – would not be able to campaign in it. Now, that would be something, wouldn’t it?