Alex Salmond has called for cross party talks in Scotland to be led by a senior judge to take forward the proposals in the Leveson Report within the context of Scots law.
Whilst the final report concludes (page 1413, pdf), that, based on what he did rather than what he said he would do vis-à-vis his relationship with News Corp, the first minister “cannot be criticised” – as reported by Left Foot Forward yesterday – had Salmond undertaken what he had pledged to do in lobbying UK ministers on behalf of News Corp to secure jobs in Scotland, he would have been interfering in a quasi-judicial decision and thereby would have “rendered the decision unlawful”.
The report also concluded the SNP leader’s support to News Corp was “striking”.
Responding to the report’s observations, a spokesman for the first minister argued it represented:
“…a complete vindication of the first minister’s position in terms of the case he was prepared to put to promote Scottish jobs and the wider Scottish economic interest.”
However, in a sign of the likely conflict between Holyrood and Westminster, on the central issue of Leveson’s recommendations on a regulatory regime with a statutory backstop, the first minister embraced the report.
“I am supportive of the conclusions of Lord Leveson, who has set out clearly the difference between statutory regulation of the press on the one hand and the argument for statutory underpinning of self-regulation on the other.
“That puts us very much in the territory of the Press Council of Ireland which I think might well provide a good template for the way forward. Clearly, we will have to be satisfied that this can be done within the necessary context of a free press.”
Addressing MSPs during First Minister’s Questions yesterday – just before the report was formally published – Salmond called for the establishment of cross-party talks to consider how the Scottish government, responsible for the regulation of the print press in Scotland, should take Leveson’s findings forward.
“I believe it’s important to achieve cross-party agreement in Scotland on the best way forward.
“I propose the establishment of an independent implementation group, chaired by a current or recent court of session judge, with five non-politician members. The purpose of this group would consider how best to implement the Leveson proposals in the context of Scots law and devolved responsibilities of this parliament.”
Addressing the central points made by Leveson against Salmond, Scottish Labour’s parliamentary business manager, Paul Martin, argued it provided a “fascinating insight into the murky way Alex Salmond goes about his business”.
Declaring the recommendations as “sensible”, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont added:
“I am not convinced that there is need for a separate press regulation system in Scotland, but, after reading Lord Leveson’s comments in his report, I am convinced that Alex Salmond is not the man to lead any form of press regulation.”
Echoing the concerns about Salmond taking the process forward, Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie, observed:
“It is not clear to me how Mr Salmond is going to be able to convene a cross-party group of leaders to take forward the report given he has been so heavily criticised in the report. He should offer to stand aside from the cross-party work. It should be led by someone untainted by the report.”
Addressing the substance of the report, he continued:
“Lord Leveson has seen right through Alex Salmond. He is justly concerned about the murky dealings between Alex Salmond and the Murdochs. He found that Alex Salmond was prepared to entice a UK minister to act unlawfully on the BSkyB bid at the same time as he was seeking political support from Mr Murdoch’s newspapers.
“Lord Leveson did not believe Mr Salmond’s claims that the Ministerial Code required the first minister lobby those UK ministers on the bid. Although Lord Leveson found no hard evidence of a deal with the Murdochs he is clearly concerned about the cosy relationship.
“Of all the politicians considered by Lord Leveson he devotes the heaviest criticism for Alex Salmond.”
Concurring with the assessment of both Labour and the Lib Dems, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called on the first minister to “step back from the process he announced” in light of the “marked criticisms of the first minister and his conduct”.
In his analysis, BBC Scotland Political Editor, Brian Taylor, wrote:
“All three main opposition parties have now backed the concept of talks – but questioned whether Alex Salmond is the one to lead them, given his proximity to the Murdochs and News Corp in the past.
“Mr Salmond notes that his contacts with Rupert Murdoch were far more limited than those of political leaders from UK parties – and that he is vindicated by the Leveson findings.
“There is, of course, no prospect of Mr Salmond standing aside from an initiative which he has instigated. That is simply unthinkable. Which… leaves the concept of cross-party talks under question.”
“Expect a few days, then, of selective quotation – with critics drawing attention to implications and inferences while Mr Salmond points to the summation that he “cannot be criticised” and was defending Scottish jobs.
“Then, perhaps, talks can begin. But there too there are pitfalls. Labour’s Johann Lamont, for one, has said she is not convinced that there is any need for a distinctive Scots regulator. In response, Mr Salmond says that, if Westminster cannot agree, then Scotland should take the lead.”
• Leveson: Salmond’s meddling in BSkyB bid and readiness to assist News Corp “striking” – November 19th, 2012