SNP leader Alex Salmond’s best-of-pals relationship with Rupert Murdoch and his son has been thrust into the limelight by the Leveson inquiry.
In an email dated 11 February last year Frederic Michel (a Mr Fixit for Murdoch Jr) told his boss: “I met with Alex Salmond’s adviser today. He (Salmond) will call Hunt (the Tory Culture Secretary) whenever we need him to.”
On 1 March 2011, Salmond had dinner with the editor of the Scottish version of the Sun. The Sun pledged to support the SNP in the Holyrood elections taking place in two months time.
The following day Salmond phoned Michel and asked if he could ensure that Murdoch Jr could “smooth the way” for the Sun to come out in support of the SNP. Michel then emailed Murdoch Jr: “Alex Salmond called... The Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election. Alex wanted to see whether we could help smooth the way for the process.”
Salmond, the email continued, wanted to host Murdoch Jr and Michel for dinner some time before the launch of the election campaign in late March. The email concluded: “On the Sky bid, he (Salmond) will make himself available to support the debate if consultation goes ahead.”
On 3 March, Salmond duly booked a call with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt so that he could argue in support of News International (NI)’s bid to take over BSkyB. (The call did not take place, as Hunt announced the same day that he would allow the takeover.)
Salmond has not denied the above sequence of events, but he has denied any formal trade-off. We’re meant to believe it was all just a coincidence!
In a debate in Holyrood last week Salmond claimed that in backing the NI bid he was merely fulfilling his role as Scottish First Minister and protecting jobs. His stance had been vindicated, he claimed, by the decision of BSkyB call-centre contractor, HEROtsc, to “bring 900 jobs” to Glasgow.
But Salmond was unable to cite any advice from civil servants or economic advisers that defending Scottish jobs required support for the Murdochs’ bid for Sky.
Nor did he attempt to explain why, if the takeover of BSkyB was good for Scotland, did SNP MPs in Westminster oppose it and co-sponsor a Labour anti-takeover motion.
And the 900 call centre jobs he referred to had been announced in April of this year, several months after the attempt to buy out BSkyB had failed. In any case, 800 of them were existing jobs which had simply transferred to HEROtsc after the collapse of another company.
Salmond’s willingness to lobby Hunt was part of a broader pattern of close relations between the Murdochs and the politician. According to Murdoch Sr, who was personally involved in the Sun’s decision to back the SNP: “I would describe [this relationship] as warm. ... I enjoy his company. I don’t know much about the SNP. I have met Mr Salmond a few times and find him an attractive person.”
Evidence provided to the inquiry by Murdoch Sr refers to four face-to-face meetings and five phone calls between the two men since 2007. Topics covered in the meetings included “Scottish independence”, investments in Scotland by NI, and Murdoch’s Scottish ancestry.
The most recent meeting took place in February this year, in the aftermath of the revelations about phone hacking and the subsequent closure of the News of the World.
As Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont put it, the meeting took place at a time when Murdoch’s papers were being investigated for bribery, phone-hacking, perverting the course of justice, perjury and destroying evidence.
Just a few days later Salmond wrote an article for the Scottish version of the Sun on Sunday, and included in his article his planned date for the referendum on Scottish independence — which not even the Holyrood Parliament had been informed of.
Salmond’s cosy relationship with the Murdochs — and other millionaires, including Fred Godwin, Brian Souter, Tom Farmer and, formerly, Donald Trump — shows up the hollowness of the SNP’s claims to be on the side of ordinary working people.