ALEX Salmond's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday was long anticipated, largely because it promised to provide answers to questions he had repeatedly brushed aside in the Scottish Parliament.
In the event, the lack of revelation raised the further question of why the First Minister did not simply tell MSPs that there was no evidence that his phone had been hacked. Although his insistence that the inquiry into press standards was the right place to answer such questions was strictly correct, acting in a way that looked like a snub to Holyrood came ill from such a normally robust defender of the status of Scottish institutions.
The rest of his evidence was something of a repeat performance. He believes details of his bank account were accessed in 1999, because a Scottish journalist working for a London-based newspaper (not belonging to the Murdochs' News Corporation) gave him details of a transaction.
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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