ALEX Salmond seems intent on creating a distinctively Scottish system of press regulation, underpinned by law, based on the model that currently exists in Ireland.
It is too early to say whether this, if it comes to pass, will be more draconian than the regulatory system being put together for England, following the publication of the Leveson report. That depends on whether David Cameron gets his way and introduces a voluntary system, or whether parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster dictates he will be over-ruled by an alliance led by the Lib Dems and Labour, who want a statutory solution. A crucial Commons debate this week will give us a better idea of where that is heading.
Meanwhile, here in Scotland, the First Minister is struggling to garner all-party support for this project. This may well be because – perhaps inevitably – the issue has become bound up with the arguments for and against Scottish independence. Simply put, does Holyrood really need to be in charge of everything? This newspaper believes Scotland needs greater control over economic levers so it can play a more effective and accountable role in managing the Scottish economy. We need control over drugs policy, and aspects of the welfare state such as housing benefit that are closely linked to existing devolved powers. We need more leeway in the setting of income tax rates, including the bands at which the tax is levied. We need direct representation in Brussels on the areas of competence Holyrood already oversees. But do we really need a Scottish navy? A Scottish DVLA? A Scottish MI6? A separate Scottish system for applying to university? Scots undoubtedly want a greater degree of independence for Holyrood, but do they really want complete independence for Holyrood?
The polls would suggest not, and therein lies Alex Salmond’s difficulty. Economic circumstances have already forced him to concede that macroeconomic policy in an independent Scotland would be controlled by the Bank of England. Our currency would still be the pound. Political necessities have led him to assert that the Queen and her heirs would remain head of state, and an independent Scotland would remain in Nato. What message would it send to voters in the 2014 referendum if Salmond was to shrug and say it was fine if Westminster took the lead in press regulation too? Even if that was the most practical and commonsense solution, Salmond would find it hard to agree to this, given where he is politically. Anything that can now be decided in Scotland must be decided in Scotland, hence his comments we report today, that the case for a Scottish solution is “unarguable”.
The immediate question is whether a separate Scottish system of press regulation is practical or necessary. On the issue of practicality there are countless questions. Small local papers aside, there is an extraordinary amount of cross-border overlap between Scottish and London-based news outlets. Most UK titles have Scottish editions. This newspaper has an edition that sells exclusively south of the Border. The obvious practical consequence would be that all newspapers printed in this island would have to conform to two separate regulatory regimes. Is that realistic, or desirable? The question of whether it is necessary is also moot. What particular Scottish problem with the Scottish press requires a separate Scottish solution? Is it, in fact, simply the case that Salmond’s move on press regulation is motivated more by the logic of his referendum campaign than by the merits of the issue at hand?
THIS week they will be celebrating their first anniversary in Scotland – if celebrating is the right word – probably with an extra large portion of succulent bamboo shoots. Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the pair of Chinese pandas in residence at Edinburgh Zoo, have become the zoo’s star attractions given the number of extra visitors who have made their journey to their new home on Corstorphine Hill this year to see them sleeping – they do a lot of sleeping – eating and generally hanging about looking cute. The nation enjoys having them there and they appear to enjoy being in Scotland where the climate is often remarkably similar to their native habitat. But there is one happy episode in the life of these iconic animals that has yet to happen. Despite the best efforts of the zoo’s keepers, we haven’t yet heard the patter of tiny panda paws. As we report today on page three, the two animals did not come into “heat” at the same time last year so the magic of procreation never happened. Now the new, strict “lights out” policy aimed at synchronising the hormone levels of both the male and the female will hopefully help in producing the right result next year. Two may be company but, in this case, three will make a very good crowd indeed and do more for Sino-Scottish relations than any number of trade delegations.