No evidence to back Scottish first minister's claims that his lobbying of Murdoch would benefit the Scottish people.
You could be forgiven for having blinked and missed Alex Salmond’s testimony before the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.
In giving evidence in which he claimed that the Observer had hacked into his bank account and argued that he supported Murdoch’s takeover of BskyB in the interest of securing jobs for Scotland and that alone, the first minister was the master of all he surveyed, cool, clam, collected.
Indeed, he even managed to get Lord Justice Leveson on the back foot at one stage, declaring that he liked Lord Leveson’s reference to the “English parliament”.
But amidst the evidence heard in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice, the consensus seems to be that whilst he may live to fight another day; Salmond’s testimony leaves a number of questions unanswered.
Responding to the proceedings last night, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie accused the first minister of treating the appearance more like being on “The One Show” sofa rather than a judicial inquiry.
• The Murdoch stench lingers around Salmond 2 May 2012
“From recommendations for books and theatre shows to the pleasures of golf in Scotland, Mr Salmond danced around questions, merrily ignoring the seriousness of the issues that are being dealt with.
“Mr Salmond failed to provide evidence that he didn’t trade support for News International on phone hacking in return for political support from the Sun and News of the World. He put his interests above those of the phone hacking victims.”
For Scottish Labour, meanwhile, its leader Johann Lamont declared:
“Alex Salmond admitted he was at Rupert Murdoch’s beck and call and prepared to lobby on his behalf whenever he asked. Yet he offered not one scrap of evidence that Scotland benefited from his closeness to the Murdoch empire.”
Picking up on the first minister’s accusations concerning the Observer, the BBC’s media correspondent Torin Douglas has explained:
“Alex Salmond’s statement about the Observer caused a flurry in the courtroom.
“Any suggestion that papers beyond the Murdoch group have been involved in wrongdoing has implications for the press as a whole. When it’s a “quality” paper rather than a tabloid – and the sister paper of the Guardian, which exposed the phonehacking scandal – the concerns go wider.
“We already knew, from a 2006 report by the information commissioner, that more than 30 national papers – including the Observer – had paid private investigators to gather information – but often they claimed a “public interest” defence.
“Mr Salmond said he believed his bank account had been accessed in 1999 because a former Observer journalist had given him details that could only have been known to someone who had seen it.
“The newspaper’s publishers say he first raised the matter with them last year and they had been unable to find any evidence to substantiate the allegation. But they took it very seriously and would investigate further if he could provide more information.”
In its editorial however, the Herald this morning argues that Salmond’s testimony leaves “too many” questions unanswered about is relationship with the Murdcoh empire.
The paper argues:
The central area of interest, however, is whether Mr Salmond’s willingness to lobby on behalf of News Corp’s bid to take over BSkyB might be the explanation for the Scottish Sun’s support for the SNP in the run-up to the 2011 Scottish election.
This was a dramatic change of mind for the tabloid which four years earlier had displayed its contempt for the Nationalists by depicting their leader with a noose round his neck.
The inquiry had already established that emails from News Corp’s head of public affairs indicated Scotland’s first minister was prepared to lobby on its behalf. Once again Mr Salmond’s explanation was that his support for the bid – to the point of calling the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt whenever the Murdochs needed him to – was because of the inward investment and additional jobs it would bring to Scotland.
His argument that this was entirely legitimate rests on the facts that he has no responsibility for broadcasting policy or the plurality of the press, which are reserved issues, and that he has a duty to secure Scottish jobs. Nevertheless, the opposition of SNP MPs at Westminster to the takeover and the lack of clarity on how many jobs were involved would suggest party policy was not as clear-cut as suggested by Mr Salmond.
It seems that in five meetings with Rupert Murdoch over five years the major topic of conversation was Mr Murdoch’s grandfather’s ministry in Cruden Bay. Perhaps it was from that relative that the media mogul learned to keep his own counsel on his politics because there was no direct answer on potential support from Mr Murdoch for the SNP.
It was a confident, sure-footed display of the type we have come to expect of Mr Salmond. However, perhaps because he had no power over broadcasting and was not central to the issue, Mr Salmond was not pressed too hard by Robert Jay, the inquiry’s barrister.
It left too many questions unanswered over the sudden, timely support of the Scottish Sun for independence last year and the nature of Mr Salmond’s relationship to the Murdoch empire.
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