Willie Rennie: Murdoch says “Jump”, Alex Salmond says “How high?”

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has said that First Minister Alex Salmond has been sullied by James Murdoch’s revelations at the Leveson Enquiry.

Amongst e-mails filed for the Enquiry to consider, one from Frederic Michel, News International’s Director of Public Affairs, about a meeting with Alex Salmond’s advisers on 15 June 2010.

It’s on Page 80 here.

So, it seems that not only was Salmond apparently prepared to call Jeremy Hunt to lobby on behalf of News International’s takeover of BSkyB, but there seemed to be a bit of a deal in the making about persuading Sky News to hold a Holyrood election debate with just two of Scotland’s four political leaders.  Alex Salmond would clearly have wiped the floor with Labour’s  Iain Gray in a head to head as he did virtually every week at First Minister’s Questions but was much more vulnerable to the Tory’s Annabel Goldie and Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott.  I wonder if the advisers approached any other broadcasters to try to make this happen and, if they did, whether the response was as positive.

Willie Rennie called for  an urgent investigation into the circumstances behind this exchange. He said:

It is difficult to understand why the First Minister has allowed himself to be sullied to such an extent.

When the troubled media mogul said jump, it is clear that Alex Salmond was quick to say ‘how high?

We need an immediate investigation into the circumstances which led to such an outrageous exchange taking place.

Alex Salmond will do anything to split Scotland from rest of UK, even cosy up to a disgraced media tycoon.

This might be a good time to remind readers of two things.

The first comes from the beginning of March when I reported how Willie Rennie took Salmond to task over the First Minster’s downplaying of the Murdoch Empire’s role in the phone hacking scandal which led to the Leveson Enquiry. This came in the same week as Rupert Murdoch tweeted his support for Scottish independence. Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, tweeted that Murdoch’s support for independence was revenge on the UK Government for setting up the Leveson Enquiry. Salmond is usually full of bluff and bluster but on this occasion he fidgeted, he could barely string a sentence together, his head was down.

The second is this article in the Guardian from July last year which showed how Liberal Democrats conducted their relationship with the Murdoch empire:

According to one account from a senior party figure, a cabinet minister was told that, if the government did not do as NI wanted, the Lib Dems would be “done over” by the Murdoch papers, which included the now defunct News of the World as well as the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

So, to recap:

  • Alex Salmond’s adviser tells Murdoch’s Public Affairs chief that he’ll lobby the UK Government for the Corporation. And let’s not kid ourselves that Hunt would take a call from a mere adviser;
  • Alex Salmond, writing in the Scottish Sun on Sunday, played down the phone hacking scandal;
  • Rupert Murdoch tweets his support for Scottish independence.
All a big coincidence?

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

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  • Go get him Willie!!

    I must admit I have a lot of time for Willie as I knew him 10 or so years ago when I worked with his wife. Nice guy and hope he continues to do well

  • Salmond wouldn’t be my first choice of effective lobbyist with a Tory. He would only have a degree of usefulness if he had something to offer the Tories. I’m struggling to see what Salmond has or had to offer.

  • It is interesting that Caron is conspicuously not drawing our attention to what has sadly become a rarity…


    …a Liberal talking sense on the independence referendum!

    It should be noted that not only does Michael Ignatieff support the Scottish Government’s referendum question but he supports the 2014 timing for the referendum too! The section from 7:28 to 8:57 in particular carries a compelling message to all Liberals who want to learn from the experience of our sister party in Canada.

  • It is interesting that Al is conspicuously no engaging with the subject at hand, but instead insisting on talking about what a Canadian said rather than the First Minister…

  • rudolph darth 24th Apr '12 - 9:05pm

    From: Michel, Frederic
    Sent: Mon-01/11/2010 6:10:18 PM
    Subject: Scotland – confidential

    Mission accomplished.

    – Libdem MP, former Sky employee, with major Sky customer centres in his constituency and around will, contact Vince Cable to ask him to bear in mind the economic/investment point of view rather than getting influenced by political games, especially in times of austerity and very dificult economic environment for those areas. He will also emphasise the opportunity for Cable to show the maturity of the Libdems as coalition partners, working for the long-term, and will draw from the Coalition government experience lib dems have had in Scotland. He agrees with the need for this to be looked at by Brussels rather than scrutinised again on plurality ground in the UK.

  • Stephen Gould 24th Apr '12 - 10:13pm

    And what did NI get in return for switching to Labour in 1995?

    Also, what persuaded Labour that Richard Desmond was a “fit and proper person” to own Channel 5? It wasn’t that big fat check payable to The Labour Party, was it?

  • I don’t really know where Willie is hoping to go with this. The same emails that suggest Salmond was willing to support the BSkyB bid also excitedly imply that an unnamed Lib Dem was pulling strings too, but while Salmond was at no time in any position to influence the decision (why would a Tory secretary of state care what a Scottish Nationalist thought about anything?), the Lib Dems very much were.

    I hope this is one of the weeks Willie is allowed a question at FMQs. Should be a cracker.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Apr '12 - 9:00am

    Ivan, Willie said on Good Morning Scotland and said that Jim Tolson, then MSP for Dunfermline, was the person mentioned in the e-mail, but he very sensibly added “where’s the trade?” Was Jim Tolson expecting Murdoch papers to back the Lib Dems? Did Jim Tolson offer to be soft on phone hacking? Of course not. And Jim Tolson has no great allegiance to Sky. He may have worked for them, in a pretty junior role, and had gone through the stress of taking them to an Employment Tribunal to secure time off for Council duties – and he won, too.

    I don’t see this as any different than Mike Crockart in Edinburgh West campaigning for the Green Investment Bank to come to Edinburgh.

  • Carol,

    Right, but the same goes for Salmond surely? Where’s the trade? Even if Salmond had more motive than Tolson to cosy up to NI, what influence did he have to sell? None. It’s a non-story, or at least it adds nothing new to the existing story of Salmond’s over-cosiness with NI, something that he’s certainly guilty of, but no more so than any other politician and significantly less so than some on the Blue and Red teams.

    Personally, I’d quite like to see Salmond taken down a couple of pegs and reminded that he’s not infallible, but I just don’t see how this is the issue that will do it, however desperate Willie Rennie is for a bit of attention.

  • (sorry, didn’t notice that “Caron” got auto-corrected to “Carol”)

  • Ian,

    How would Salmond be more able to influence NI’s takeover of BSkyB after independence than at present?

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