The bad smell lingering around Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch gets worse and worse, reports Ed Jacobs.
The bad smell lingering around Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch took a new twist yesterday as it emerged the SNP leader did indeed seek discussions with UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt over News Corp’s bid to take over BSkyB.
With the now famous Frédéric Michel emails (pdf) having stated on February 11th 2011 that Salmond would “call Hunt whenever we need him”, it has now transpired Salmond began making such attempts to discuss the bid with Hunt a day after the email dated March 2nd was sent from Michel to James Murdoch confirming the Scottish Sun would be prepared to back the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections.
This is despite Salmond’s continued insistence on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday there was no “quid pro quo” whereby he would support the takeover in return for support for his party in the Holyrood elections and his denial that he acted as an “undercover lobbyist” for the Murdoch’s.
Responding to a written parliamentary question tabled by shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran and published yesterday, Hunt explained in no uncertain terms:
“Mr Salmond’s office contacted mine to request a telephone call on 3 March 2011, and again a number of times in the following days. However, I can confirm that no such call took place or was ever scheduled.”
The development came as a majority report (pdf) from the culture, media and sport select committee declared on page 115:
“Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
Furthermore, Labour’s vice chairman on the select committee and one of the most persistent campaigners in exposing the Murdoch empire, Tom Watson, has written to Alex Salmond calling on him to establish an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament into how and why MSPs had their phones hacked. It comes after the Sunday Mail north of the border broke the news that former Labour first minister, Jack McConell, and his children had had their phones hacked.
• Murdoch goes Salmond-fishing 3 Mar 2012
• Salmond courts Murdoch 28 Feb 2012
• The 25 questions over the SNP’s Murdoch links 19 Jul 2011
Meanwhile, the Daily Record yesterday reported Salmond’s own Parliamentary Aide, Joan McAlpine, also had her phone hacked by the now defunct News of the World.
Responding somewhat combatively to the report and calls for a separate inquiry in Scotland, Salmond declared:
“The question of who is a fit person to run a major news organisation should be judged by independent authorities, like Lord Leveson, and by the scrutiny of an independent statutory body like Ofcom, rather than a politically divided committee of MPs split on party lines.
“In terms of the suggestion of a separate Scottish inquiry, the Scottish justice system does not need any lectures from Tom Watson, who seems unaware of the fact that the Leveson Inquiry includes Scotland within its remit, and the fact that a Strathclyde Police special unit are currently investigating allegations of criminality in Scotland.
“That investigation will proceed wherever the evidence leads, without fear or favour, to ensure Scottish citizens are afforded the proper protection of the criminal law.
“And in Scotland, I am confident the criminal law will be upheld.”
The rhetoric and bluster, however, from the first minister, is now becoming more of a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the erosion of any credibility around his core argument his support for the BSkyB bid was about supporting the creation of jobs north of the border.
Firstly, if the jobs that would have come to Scotland as a result of a successful News Corp takeover bid were that important, why then did Salmond’s own Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance, then a humble backbench SNP MSP for Livingston, sign a Parliamentary motion in October 2010 calling on the UK government to:
“…oppose Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to increase his company’s share of BSkyB”
Similarly, why, if the BSkyB jobs were as necessary for Scotland as Salmond seems to suggest, did the SNP’s leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, put his name to Labour’s motion on July 13th 2011 declaring:
“This House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB.”
Secondly, during First Minister’s Questions last week, Salmond hailed 900 jobs having been created in Glasgow by HEROtsc, Scotland’s leading customer management company, which he said were “expanding their contract to provide sales and service support to BSkyB”. The only problem is that none of these jobs were depended on News Corp gaining complete ownership of the broadcaster, given they were announced long after the Murdochs decided to drop their bid for BSkyB.
In calling for Salmond to make an urgent statement to the Scottish Parliament on the whole affair, Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, has responded to the latest developments by declaring:
“Now only Alex Salmond and the SNP think that Rupert Murdoch is a fit and proper person to run newspapers and television companies in this country.
“We know that the first minister lobbied on Murdoch’s behalf – having first denied it, but Alex Salmond finally admitted it.
“We know that he is blocking the Scottish Parliament from having our own inquiry into phone-hacking – despite the fact Jack McConnell had his phone hacked while first minister.
“We know that Alex Salmond is refusing to say how his chief adviser Kevin Pringle was involved in his deal with Murdoch and doesn’t want him to give evidence on oath to the Leveson Inquiry.
“What we need to know is why Alex Salmond thinks that Rupert Murdoch is still a fit and proper person to run media in this country. We need to know why Alex Salmond thinks it is fit and proper for Scotland’s First Minister to lobby on his behalf.
“What we need is for the first minister to explain himself to the Scottish Parliament at the first opportunity.”
Along the same lines, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has argued:
“It is strange day when Mr Salmond is happy to let Westminster run with the ball on something that affects Scotland.
“In the last few days we have learned that phone hacking reached the very top of government in Scotland. It is right and proper that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to look into the phone hacking scandal in its own way and in its own time.
“Mr Salmond should try not to let the serious questions he is facing over his own links with Rupert Murdoch cloud his judgement. He should reconsider his position in the interests of full transparency.”