Alex Salmond holds court at Leveson with added fun and games

Tonight the Olympic Torch arrived at Edinburgh Castle. There was one person who was unusually absent from such a significant gathering. I don’t know how much say Leveson witnesses get in choosing the date that they appear, but I can’t imagine our First Minister Alex Salmond would have deliberately chosen a court date in London over a major event at home in Scotland.

He didn’t look so disappointed, though. He had the manner of someone who was enjoying the experience far more than could be considered decent. Alex Salmond always loves going south of the border and holding court. He charmed and he smiled. In fact, I don’t think he stopped smiling the whole time.

I laughed out loud when I saw that Willie Rennie had likened his performance to being more like a visit to The One Show sofa  than a Court of Law. His witness statement is fairly sparse in detail and his oral evidence did not tell us much more apart from his one great revelation. Why he could not have told the Scottish Parliament first whether his phone had been hacked or not is beyond me. It’s not as if he hadn’t had the chance – he had refused to answer questions about it.  He said he had no evidence to suggest that it had been. However, he went on to say that he thought that the Observer had accessed his bank account in the run up to the first Holyrood elections in 1999. Salmond didn’t give much away on the substance of his dealings with Murdoch, but there was definitely too much information in this story. He recounted how the person who told him about the access to the bank account saw that he’d been at a shop called Fun and Games on Linlithgow High Street and thought that it might be “more than a conventional toy shop”.

Willie Rennie has had Salmond on the ropes several times over his dealings with the Murdoch companies. I recounted these in April.  He was barely tested today, however. He wasn’t really confronted about his decision to downplay phone hacking in the article he wrote for the first issue of the Scottish Sun on Sunday. Was that in exchange for Murdoch’s support in the election? He wasn’t challenged on his approach to Murdoch to persuade Sky News to have a debate with just him and  hapless Labour leader Iain Gray in the run up to last year’s Holyrood election. He was prepared to lobby Vince Cable over the BSkyB bid on the pretext of it protecting jobs in Scotland without it being clear how they were at risk.

Willie Rennie had this to say about Salmond’s appearance today:

Mr Salmond clearly thought that rather than being on the stand at the Leveson Inquiry he thought he was sitting on the sofa at the One Show.

From recommendation 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.

All in all a cosy rather than an illuminating appearance. Clearly Robert Jay’s questioning does not trouble the First Minister as much as Willie Rennie’s.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Ken Campbell 13th Jun '12 - 10:52pm

    “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. ”

    This is quite an odd statement to make. Surely the onus is on his opponents to provide evidence that his meetings with Murdoch DID lead to his papers giving the SNP their support? Plenty of politicians have had meetings with Murdoch, that hasn’t always led to their political parties getting the support of a Murdoch rag.

  • cynicalHighlander 13th Jun '12 - 10:53pm

    Under Willie Rennie one now has to prove ones innocence when there is not one shred of evidence to implicate Alex Salmond in any wrong doing whatsoever. Can Willie prove that he is not a mass murderer hiding in LibDem clothing as the people must hear him prove it even though I have no evidence, but suspect he must be hiding something because I don’t like him.

  • Rennie considers lack of evidence of innocence to be proof of guilt. A tragic and frightening aspect in a so called Liberal Democrat. Are Lib Dems going to start considering others guilty unless they can prove their innocence too? Is Clegg going to push this to be incorporated into criminal law? Or has Rennie just went too far and lost all credibility as a result?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jun '12 - 9:21am

    Well, I was ashamed to read on the front page of the Scottish Sun on Sunday that my First Minister had written the following:

    The Leveson inquiry is, rightly, looking into some of the issues that have prompted these changes.
    But the questions the probe is looking at relate to the industry, not one newspaper or company.

    The Leveson Inquiry would not be happening at all without Nick Clegg who pressed for a judge led inquiry – and the catalyst for it was the revelation that thousands of phones had been hacked by News International employees, including that of Milly Dowler.

    Then there were the conversations between Salmond’s office and Fred Michel – discussing Salmond lobbying UK Govt ministers over BSkyB and discussing setting up a TV debate in Salmond’s chosen format. That stinks.

    Salmond spends a lot of time courting rich and powerful people – like Brian Souter, Murdoch and Donald Trump – and look how that ended up.

  • I agree with gerry mcgregor.
    There is no credibility in any LibDem criticism of Alex Salmond or any other horse riding, champagne sipping, sleazy politician from here on. In fact what Liberal Democrat MP’s did yesterday adds to the message (to voters), of incestuous political sleaze, and double dealing at Westminster.
    And, it doesn’t matter a jot that a carried vote might still not have forced Cameroon’s hand. LibDem MPs had their chance to stand by their principals and show what they were made of.
    And in truth, I suppose they did show what they were made of.

  • Richard Dean 14th Jun '12 - 8:04pm

    He may be round, but he’s a canny slippery fish too! How else would an advocate of Scottish Independence be expected to behave in an enquiry in England into English ineptitude and wrongdoings?

  • >In fact what Liberal Democrat MP’s did yesterday adds to the message (to voters), of incestuous political sleaze, and double dealing at Westminster.

    From what I heard of the proceedings, the Tories and Labour sounded equally awful and leaving them to slug it out like squabbling infants was quite wise for everyone else..
    And the BBC was reporting after that the Tories are calling the Lib Dems traitors for abstaining rather than supporting them. Cameron’s reported to have been furious, etc.

    I doubt that, come the next elections at any level, this vote will feature on many doorsteps.
    It will be tuition fees, ‘propping up the Tories,’ austerity, cuts that concern voters. Not whether we called for an inquiry into whether Hunt was pro-Murdoch.I think most people take it as a given that all recent government have been, either through desire for power or fear, closely tied with Murdoch and co.

    Do we need another inquiry on top of Leveson anyway? We’ve had plenty of inquiries that have ended in a whitewash or waffle, so I doubt yet another one would make any difference anyway.

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