It was fun and games from Alex Salmond at the Leveson inquiry yesterday.

For weeks the First Minister has been playing with us, teasing that he might have been a victim of News of the World phone hacking; a kind of Charlotte Church of Scottish politics. "I shall be speaking about these matters under oath to the Leveson Inquiry", he's intoned solemnly when asked to come clean at First Ministers' Questions. After all, what right did the Scottish Parliament have to hear the truth before an English law lord?

But it turned out, ha ha, that there was no evidence of Mr Salmond's phone being hacked after all. The sense of anti-climax was palpable on the twittersphere. Why couldn't he have told us this before? The First Minister did, however, tell Lord Leveson that his bank account had been illegally accessed by The Observer newspaper in 1999. This was where the fun and games came in. The newspaper had apparently questioned Mr Salmond about purchases from a Linlithgow company called Fun and Games. The nasty hacks had thought that this might be a purveyor of adult entertainment when it was actually a toyshop. "The person concerned had details", said Mr Salmond, "which could only have been known by someone with full access to my bank account". The Observer insisted last night that no such breach of privacy had occurred.

Now, this all happened around 1999 in the run-up to the first Scottish parliamentary elections, and it set me thinking. I was working for the BBC at the time and I do recall fielding questions from journalists, mostly London-based, about Alex Salmond's alleged gambling habits. Certain newspapers had become convinced that his fondness for the horses had turned into something of a gambling addiction and that he was buckling under the weight of his debts. There was absolutely no truth whatever in this. But as often happens in journalism, the story was too good to abandon just because it happened to be untrue. I don't know whether the Observer actually did break into Salmond's bank account, but I do know that other people were trying.

But was this rather ancient revelation an attempt by Mr Salmond to throw us off the Murdoch scent? Was the First Minister raising the Observer's conduct as a means of diverting attention from his own dealings with News International? After all, the key question at the inquiry was whether or not the First Minister had done a deal with Mr Murdoch to back his bid to take over BSkyB in exchange for favourable treatment from the Sun in Scotland. Lord Leveson's inquisitor, Robert Jay QC, spent more than an hour questioning him about this without getting very far. "There was no quid pro quo," insisted Alex Salmond. His only interest in backing Rupert was to protect and extend the "huge economic footprint" of News International in Scotland. Mr Salmond explained that, as Scotland's First Minister, he had no responsibility whatever for monopoly policy or media cross-ownership, but that he did have a statutory obligation to promote Scotland's economic interests. Hence his offer to lobby the minister, Jeremy Hunt, on Mr Murdoch's behalf.

Now, the obvious question here was: just how many jobs would the BSkyB merger actually have delivered for Scotland? Was there any reason to suppose that giving Mr Murdoch this extraordinary monopoly grip on the UK media would benefit the Scottish economy at all? Unfortunately, Mr Jay didn't ask these questions and instead sought to infer from emails that Mr Salmond had "subtly" entered an understanding to back the bid provided that Mr Murdoch did not "exercise a veto" on the political decisions taken by the editor of the Scottish Sun.

The only moment when the First Minister looked shifty was when he admitted that he knew from experience that if you asked Mr Murdoch directly about getting support from his titles he always said "go to the editors". Mr Jay put it to him that this "presupposed" that he had indeed asked Rupert Murdoch for political support; that it was a "reasonable interpretation" that an understanding had been reached between them. But Mr Salmond was having none of it. It was jobs, jobs, jobs. Nothing to do with the Sun backing the SNP in the 2010 Holyrood elections. Never entered his head. What a suggestion.

Labour's Johann Lamont said last night that Mr Salmond's evidence showed he was "at Rupert Murdoch's beck and call". This is hardly justified. That there was a very cosy relationship between them is undeniable. It's possible that neither sought to promote their own interests through this relationship but it seems pretty unlikely.

However, there was no way that a politician as fluent as Alex Salmond was ever going to give the game away, if there was one to give away.

And you couldn't help getting the impression that Lord Leveson was getting just a little bored by all this. It was a distraction from the big picture. It didn't help that, early in the session, he referred to "the English parliament". For me, the most interesting evidence from Alex Salmond was not about his lobbying for News International, but his views on the nature and conduct of journalism.

The First Minister said he believed that it was "impossible" to distinguish between fact and comment in newspaper reporting and that it "endangered press freedom" even to try. He is opposed, therefore, to the PCC's code of conduct, endorsed by all Scottish newspapers, which asserts that the distinction between fact and opinion is is fundamental to journalistic credibility.

Now, of course, newspapers all have their editorial postures and this sometimes influences headline writers, especially in the tabloid press. But to say that all news should really be seen as opinion is eccentric to say the least. If so, how can readers ever be expected to believe what they read? Objectivity may be difficult, but it is surely essential if the press is to retain its authority.

On one point though Mr Salmond was on the money: that before anyone should start talking about statutory regulation of the press, attempts should be made to enforce the law of the land. The whole point about phone hacking – and bank account hacking – is that it is already illegal. So is paying police officers and public servants to reveal confidential information. If the existing laws were enforced then perhaps regulation wouldn't be necessary. Good point. But by this time Lord Leveson's mind had turned to other things. It had been a long day, after all.

Read Alex Salmond's full evidence to Leveson