By Bob Duncan and G.A.Ponsonby
“Politicians of Devolved government” have been exempted by Lord Leveson from the UK pattern of “too close” relationships between politicians and the press,
The report, published on Thursday, also states that Alex Salmond cannot be criticised - a move which further reinforces the vindication of the first Minister.
In the report, Lord Leveson accepts Mr Salmond’s explanation that any contact with Jeremy Hunt – had it taken place – was prompted by a “laudable” desire to protect and even create jobs. It’s this section of the report that has effectively spiked his political opponent’s guns.
Of Mr Salmond's contacts with Rupert Murdoch, Lord Leveson wrote that the First Minister "cannot be criticised" for his offer to lobby the UK government on behalf of the news organisation.
Lord Leveson concluded: "I have absolutely no doubt that Mr Salmond was motivated by an anxiety to help Scottish employment and to benefit Scotland generally: that is entirely laudable and exactly what is the expectation and proper function of the First Minister."
Perhaps as a consequence of this vindication, the nature of attacks on the First Minister by Unionist politicians has begun to subtlely change over recent days – something unremarked by the Scottish media who have simply parroted the new line.
Back in April, all three Unionist leaders claimed that Alex Salmond had 'courted' Rupert Murdoch for party political gain, and that he had offered to lobby Jeremy Hunt on his behalf in exchange for political support from the Scottish Sun. Indeed it was the basis for the attacks on Mr Salmond by opponents, including Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.
The First minister consistently denied the accusation, saying that his only interest was in retaining and potentially creating Scottish jobs. This oft-repeated denial did nothing to quiet the repeated accusations of all three party leaders.
However, it has now been made clear by Levison that Salmond's meeting with Murdoch was motivated solely by his interest in jobs, and that no deal was done, or attempted, on political support for the SNP or independence.
Also in April, Johann Lamont made the further allegation that, since the revelations of the Sun newspaper's role in the Milly Dowler affair, Alex Salmond was the only party leader to have hosted a meeting with Murdoch.
But, by then it had already become clear that then new Labour leader Ed Miliband had himself met with Mr Murdoch and had sought endorsement of his party from the Sun in the post-Dowler period. Indeed, Mr Miliband was pictured holding up copies of the Sun newspaper and even announced that the newspaper’s readers would be first to know Labour’s new policies.
In Thursday’s First Minister's Questions, prior to the publication of Leveson's conclusions, Labour's Johann Lamont repeated the accusation that Salmond alone had hosted meetings with Murdoch post Dowler. The motivation behind the attacks became clear when she said:
"Does he [the First Minister] understand that his relationship with Murdoch undermines any confidence we can have in him to set up a regulatory system for a free press?"
This accusation of inappropriate closeness of ‘relationship’ between Salmond and Murdoch seems to have replaced the earlier allegations of a secret deal that included favourable coverage for the SNP by the Sun newspaper.
In a Radio Scotland interview in April, the accusation against Mr Salmond was clear when Johann Lamont said: “But we have to be concerned that the First Minister may have put himself in a position where he supported commercially News International in order to achieve political support.”
This accusation has been very specifically reduced to rubble by Leveson who has made it clear that no such deal was being sought by Salmond who was seeking to increase News Corp’s footprint in Scotland, something a successful BSKYB bid would have led to.
But the interview contained something else which should make life a little uncomfortable for Ms Lamont.
The meetings between Mr Salmond and the Executives of News Corp, which is what the Murdochs were, were entirely appropriate. Indeed, in the context of enhancing job opportunities for Scotland we know of someone else who would have met business leaders for the same job enhancement reasons.
That person is Johann Lamont.
Listen carefully to the interview and she is specifically asked by presenter Gary Robertson if she herself would have met with the Murdochs to lobby for Scottish jobs.
She replies: “Well you would have to meet with people to talk about jobs and so on.”
It’s quite an admission given Ms Lamont’s view that any such meetings are inappropriate. It’s also one of these admissions that seems to have been conveniently forgotten by the Scottish media.
And it will stay forgotten, for there is no news outlet in Scotland which will pursue Ms Lamont over this apparent contradiction.
Mr Salmond has met with Rupert Murdoch on five occasions to discuss jobs in Scotland, that much is already in the public domain. If this is the ‘relationship’ Ms Lamont is speaking of, and there appears no other, then one assumes she too would have met the News Corp Chief to discuss the company’s plans for jobs.
That she herself has publicly acknowledged that a First Minister “would have to meet“ with such people to lobby on behalf of Scotland then one is left wondering what exactly is inappropriate about such meetings.
Johann Lamont is calling for the First Minister to remove himself from the post-Leveson process in Scotland that will address the issues raised by Leveson regarding the press. Will Lamont volunteer to remove herself from the process given her own apparent admission that she would have held similar meetings with News Corp executives?
But it wasn’t just Johann Lamont who was accusing Mr Salmond of seeking newspaper support for his party. Also making the claim was Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie.
Speaking on the same day as the Scottish Labour leader, Mr Rennie made a series of wild allegations regarding Mr Salmond’s meeting with Murdoch, including claims regarding News International’s role in phone hacking.
“He [Salmond] was prepared to play down the role of News International and the News of the World in the phone hacking scandal in return for the possible support from the Sun for independence.” said Rennie.
We have to remember that this allegation has been dismissed by Leveson. In fact leaked communications from News Corp contained claims that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg himself supported the BskyB bid, and as you will hear from the radio interview, Mr Rennie’s own Scottish party.
The ‘favourable coverage’ line being pursued by Mr Salmond’s political opponents was so clear that BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson pressed Deputy First Minister on the allegations in a quite apallingly hostile interview.
Towards the end of the interview Robertson himself actually asserts that “we now know of course from these emails of the close relationship between Mr Salmond and Mr Murdoch”. A claim, looking back and with the Leveson report published, that is outrageous from a so called impartial BBC presenter.
There was indeed criticism of politicians by Leveson who he deemed had formed relationships “too close” with the press. The parties criticised were Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems – the report very specifically excluded those parties from the devolved administrations from such criticism.
In section 3.5. of his report, Leveson writes: “The evidence clearly demonstrates that the political parties of UK national government and of UK official opposition have had or developed too close a relationship with the press.”
Leveson was in fact scathing of the leaders of the UK parties, in section 3.7, he continues: “I therefore conclude that politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest.”
One has heard no demands from Johann Lamont for Ed Miliband to remove himself from any post-Leveson process, or by Willie Rennie for Nick Clegg to step aside.
Indeed none of Alex Salmond’s political opponents seem concerned that the men who will be tasked with fashioning a new press regulatory system to cover the rest of the UK are the same people who have effectively been found guilty by Leveson.
According to Lord Leveson, Alex Salmonds political opponents have made accusations that are in fact baseless. That these same political opponents of the First Minister can simply alter their attacks on a whim and have more evidence free accusations aired by the same media outlets, is indicative of a media with no appetite for holding Uninists to account.
Lamont and Rennie will face no sanctions from Scotland's media over their very public, and at times hypocritical attacks. Gary Robertson will not apply the same vigour when next he interviews either of them as he applied to Nicola Sturgeon in the interview above.
Instead, as with the suppression of examples of Labour MSPs misleading the Scottish Parliament with a series of inaccurate statements yet to be corrected, the misdeeds will be quietly forgotten.
First Minister’s Questions from April where Mr Miliband's meeting with Mr Murdoch is revealed.
Read more here, including examples of BBC Scotland's selective coverage: