Salmond emerges unscathed after Leveson Inquiry ‘grilling’

And with one bound he was free.

As far as Alex Salmond’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry was concerned it was déjà vu all over again.

Remember the kerfuffle over the First Minister’s links with Donald Trump, that golf course and suggestions of impropriety? The Scottish Parliament would hold him to account, they would grill him and force him to reveal all.

On that occasion, Mr Salmond toyed with the committee, answered every question without giving anything away and left his political opponents scratching their heads in bewilderment.

So it was yesterday when the First Minister sat before the Leveson Inquiry in London. He was at times gracious to the point of fawning: “Yes, Sir.” “No, Sir.” “You’re right, of course, sir,” he said, almost tugging his forelock in the direction of Lord Justice Leveson.

At other times he was mischievous: “I like the term English Parliament,” he said after Lord Leveson used the phrase inadvertently, causing the inquiry chief to bury his head in his hands in mock frustration.

The First Minister was also deliberately rambling, urging the interrogating counsel Robert Jay to see a play, Black Watch and read a book, Born Fighting, a history of Scots in America.

But he was also gently misleading, too. His assertion that the Scottish Sun used “Holmesian” deduction techniques to uncover the date of the referendum in its first Sunday issue earlier this year – in an edition that featured a prominent column by the First Minister himself – would have raised more than a few eyebrows at Holyrood.

The First Minister also carefully manipulated the news agenda. He was there, ostensibly, to answer a central question about whether there had been a link between his willingness to lobby the UK Government on behalf of News Corp and the Sun’s backing for the SNP in the 2011 election.

And yet, even a cursory glance at this morning’s papers shows that this was not the main news item to come from Mr Salmond’s evidence session.

Early in his evidence, Mr Salmond dropped in the grenade, claiming he had been told that his bank account had been accessed by the Observer newspaper.

He did this extremely well, too. He dressed up his claims with a little humour and an interesting, and very believable story. He talked about going to a shop called Fun & Games on Linlithgow High Street to buy presents for his nieces.

According to Mr Salmond, the Observer became very excited about this, believing that Fun & Games was about more than children’s toys, according to Mr Salmond who then asked the inquiry: “On Linlithgow High Street?”

In doing so, he provided a good, solid news line for the following day, relegating the issue of his links to News Corp to a secondary element and controlling the news agenda.

And, through all of this, the Leveson Inquiry got nowhere on the central claim that there had been some deal over his backing for the BSkyB bid.

Mr Salmond insisted there was no quid pro quo between his willingness to lobby on behalf of News Corp – which he did to protect Scottish jobs – and the Sun’s backing for the SNP in 2011.

That left all his opponents in something of a dead end. Unless something new appears from within the reams of correspondence and documentation being handled by the inquiry, or if that evidence is contradicted by one the Murdochs, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for this particular pursuit to go.

Like over the Trump case, Mr Salmond has gone into an inquiry with his opponents convinced they can catch him out and, with the skill and ease of argument that have become his trademark, the First Minister has emerged unscathed.

So what are we left with?

First, there is Mr Salmond’s links with the Murdochs and News Corp. Unlike many politicians, Mr Salmond has been remarkably open about this.

Yes, he saw the Murdochs and the editors of their papers. Yes, he tried to influence them – any politician who denied the same shouldn’t be under oath, he claimed.

Why did he offer to lobby on behalf of Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB? Again, the First Minister was open about this, because there were thousands of Scottish jobs on the line and the priority was the Scottish economy, Scottish business and Scottish jobs.
What about the Sun’s backing for the SNP last year? There was no deal, Mr Salmond insisted.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that he is right on this one. It does appear as if the Sun’s support for the SNP came about because the Sun in Scotland thought this was then right thing to do at the time (and also, importantly, it is likely to have had more to do with the Sun’s bitter rivalry with the Labour-supporting Daily Record than with anything else).

There may have been an unstated, friendly link between the two events. Rupert Murdoch was known to admire Mr Salmond and the Sun’s support for the SNP may well have been a logical extension of that.

But there is no evidence of a formal quid pro quo and, without that, this accusation will probably shrivel away and die over time.

And the lessons learnt?

1 – There is no one better in politics (with the exception of Tony Blair) at talking with ease, confidence and authority – while saying absolutely nothing revealing – than Mr Salmond.

2 – It is very hard, almost impossible really, to pin the First Minister down when he doesn’t want that to happen.

3 – Mr Salmond had close links to the Murdochs. The Murdochs liked him and the Scottish Sun gave him its full support at the last election. There is not, however, anything concrete to link that support to Mr Salmond’s offer to lobby the UK Government on behalf of News Corp.

4 – Editors, proprietors and senior politicians operate in a cosy little world of private meetings and confidential phonecalls, far above the world inhabited by political journalists and ordinary politicians, and it is here that the key decisions are taken.

5 – The Leveson Inquiry has been going on for too long, obsessing the small but influential media and political establishment, and is going nowhere fast. Really, our attentions would be better focused on what is really important. And now that the one big Scottish figure has appeared without revealing anything crucially important, maybe we shall.

  • bellebrise

    Yes, maybe some more important issues should be addressed.  It is nothing new that politicians seek to influence newspaper coverage; we know that they employ professional PR people to do just that.

    On the realms of the slightly more important we saw on the BBC News last night that Sophie Raworth (she of the disastrous Jubilee Pageant coverage – “Look! There’s my Dad!”) was at Edinburgh Castle to comment on the *lympic torch arrival.
    (Diverting slightly for a moment to ask if there would be many people on the streets watching if the schools were not removing pupils from their studies to line the routes a la Potemkin?)
    Apparently, there cannot be a commentator working for the BBC in Scotland with sufficient ability to provide the necessary face to camera.  This means that someone has to be sent up from England to provide the necessary skill, experience and expertise.  Thank Heaven for that!
    It just shows once again the debt we owe our Southern neighbours and our ongoing dependence on their help. 
    Or, put another way, what hope is there for an independent Scotland to run its own affairs – stuff like international relations, finance and commerce – when we cannot be trusted to present a TV programme?

  • Maidmarrion

    His opponents trying to catch him out?

    You mean the media , the Scotsman , the Herald ,the Record , the Telegraph , STV , BBBC Scotland and a few ridiculous MSPs so intent on NOT working for Scotland but oh! so intent on smearing , spinning and downright lying – those opponents?

    The First Minister is indeed a consummate  orator ,it is therefore a pity that the people of Scotland don’t hear him more often as the editors of the two “scottish” TV channels seem adept at cutting off the “best bits” leading anyone watching to believe the words of obfuscators and spinners who take their orders from their bosses in London.

    I am utterly sickened and ashamed of the media manipulation ,if ever the word “quislings” apply it is to them.

  • Ged Mitchell

    Or the Leveson Inquiry could either be the medias’ ruse to not to point out that the UK is in an absolute financial mess with the Tories not being able to bring the borrowing under control, or the media is navel gazing because it is fascinated with politics while the rest of the majority of the voters have no interest in this whatsoever. We all know that the inquiry will, in the end, do nothing. There may be a few recommendations that are given but you can be sure that, by the time the politicians get their hands on it, it will have the bite of toothless granny.

  • Iain Mackenzie

    Scottish media, and the Scottish sub-branches of the English media are a farce.

    If the Scots believe the tripe they’re force fed by Macdonnell and his ilk, they deserve everything they get.

    Why is Scottish mainstream media like this. Why? Why? Why?

  • Duncan Macniven

    Hamish I see you wear a
    different face when writing in the Scottish Daily Mail a copy I
    picked up in Sainsburys coffee shop as there was nothing else to read
    apart from The Scotsman, which I would not even soil my backside with
    to wipe it.

    This article here
    suggest to me, as does many of the  comments by other pro
    unionist journalists, that you are seething with rage that Salmond
    was not humiliated at Levenson. You simply cannot accept that he had
    nothing to answer for. And when compared to other UK politicians he
    is as pure as the driven snow. I’m certain your script was well typed
    and edited to roast him, just as you wanted to do to Scotland over
    Megrahi in 2009 as you fantasised and drooled on the harm America was
    going to do to Scotland!

    However your latest
    polemic in today’s Scottish Daily Mail betrays that side of you that
    wished harm on Scotland for Megrahi. That spiteful visceral hating
    side we see so much of from the unionist benches in Holyrood.

    “As she watched the
    Olympic torch pass by a few yards in front of her, the little girl
    waved the Union Flag that her mother had bought. In doing so the girl
    stepped on to a small plastic Saltire on the pavement, creasing it
    and smearing the flag in to the dirt in her desperation to lift her
    self higher so she could see the flame as it passed by.” What a
    nasty snide little piece of schoolboy gossip, what cringing hatred
    can cause someone to wish that the sentiments in that piece were
    true. That is an example of the muck you provide for your right wing
    readers in the Scottish daily Mail which is as Scottish as the man on
    the Moon. You and your ilk are in for a shock Hamish come 2014. If
    your prediction that your Mail headline trumpets “Desperate stunt
    proves the Nats’ strategy is starting to flag,” is as accurate as
    that other Mail headline you trumpeted in 2009, “How the SNP turned
    allies into enemies.” I for one am quite confident that we will be
    able to ram your words back down your unionist throat in 2014.
    Scotland has never been more popular in America and despite the
    efforts of the Boycott Scotland website team. Americans continue to
    come here in their droves, Despite Glenn Campbell of BBC Scotland
    fame travelling all the way to America hunting for the elusive
    Scottish haters. After a week he had to give up but made up lies anyway.

    Your criticism of the
    SNP for organising Saltires to be handed out at the torch ceremony
    was bizarre. Are these games not supposed to be the games for the UK?
    If you listen to Lord CoCo and his acolytes they are, even though he
    said “fu*k em” when asked about the Scots and the football.
    Trailing the torch round the islands and Scotland was just another
    contrived stunt to try and fool Scots in to thinking these were our
    games and not London s even though we are paying through the nose for
    them. As was the dragooning of school kids one of whom you say stood
    on the Saltire, to stand and wave. Ironically one of the kids in the
    photo with your piece has a child waving a Saltire whilst wearing a
    Union Jack hat. Australians have no problem with it why should Scots?

    There were many
    hundreds of Saltires seen at the events as there were many hundreds
    of The Cross of St George, Saltires, Welsh flags, Tric Colurs and
    even the Stars and Stripes seen on the Mall. I wonder who had the
    idea of handing them out? Who would have thunk it a country wishing
    to see it’s own flag being flown?

    A petty nasty vengeful
    article Hamish, full of snide and fantasy. And one that shows your
    true colours and tells us all we need to know about you. Such a pity
    it is not available on line to show people what you are really like.
    Maybe you will have the courage to reproduce it on here?

    Lord Levenson blew the gaff with his “English parliament” bit. No wonder he slapped his head, I bet he also felt like biting his tongue out. For he had just revealed the true nature of the Westminster dinosaur. The juraasic park of the UK has and always will be for the rest of it’s limited life, the “English Parliament.” It is that fact and the bigotry from the unionist supporters of Westminster that will carry the ball over the line that will see Scotland independent very soon.


  • Seumas

    What a travesty, a man with a name like Hamish MacDonell, a misnomer as bad as “The Scotsman”What will this guy do wnen Scotland is independent?? go back where he belongs along with the rest of the quislings.