Opposition leaders voiced their surprise earlier today after Alex Salmond insisted he was “very content” with Lord Justice Leveson’s conclusions on his dealings with Rupert Murdoch.
• Opposition leaders call for Alex Salmond to step aside from press regulation debate
• Leveson report said First Minister was prepared to lobby UK ministers on behalf of News Corp
The First Minister pointed to the Leveson inquiry’s conclusion that he “cannot be criticised”, and welcomed the finding that Scottish jobs and investment motivated the dealings he had with the media mogul.
But Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson argued the inquiry report contained “severe criticism” of the SNP leader, and echoed calls for him to stand aside from leading talks on the way forward for press regulation.
Scottish Labour’s leader Johann Lamont accused Mr Salmond of flawed judgment.
Released last week, the Leveson report into press standards found that the First Minister displayed a “striking” readiness to lobby UK Business Secretary Vince Cable and former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp during their consideration of the legality of its planned BSkyB takeover.
Mr Salmond did not contact the UK ministers, despite indicating his willingness to do so, and therefore “cannot be criticised”, the report found, saying he must be “judged by what he did, as opposed to what he said he was prepared to do.”
However, if the First Minister had been successful in persuading UK ministers, his actions would have knowingly led them to break the law if it advanced Scottish interests, the report found.
Mr Salmond was today asked whether he accepted he was wrong to offer to lobby on behalf of News Corp. He said: “I’m very content with the Leveson conclusions, which said that I can’t be criticised for what I did. I’m also very satisfied that he accepts without question that my motivation was Scottish jobs and investment, and calls that an entirely laudable aim. So I’m very happy with the conclusions of the Leveson report.”
He added: “We believe there’s an over-arching commitment in the Scottish ministerial code, which was put in in 2008, for Scottish ministers to support jobs and investment in Scotland, what Lord Leveson describes as ‘laudable’.”
Asked whether he wanted to maintain the position that he had been totally vindicated, Mr Salmond replied: “I accept Lord Leveson’s conclusion that
based on what I did I cannot be criticised.”
Opposition leaders criticised Mr Salmond’s stance. Ms Lamont said: “It’s astonishing. I think he should perhaps be a little more reflective on what Lord Leveson says, because Leveson has criticised him more than any politician.
“The only reason he didn’t act in the way that he intended to do … was because the bid was withdrawn.”
Ms Davidson also called the stance “astonishing”. She said: “You can criticise someone for their intent. [Mr Salmond] made it clear to senior Murdoch executives that he was intending to ask UK government ministers to act in an unlawful manner.
“There was severe criticism that was put on record by Lord Justice Leveson of the conduct of our First Minister, and he has to accept that.
Meanwhile, around 2,000 editors will sign up to a new independent press watchdog, Lord Hunt, the chairman of the
soon-to-be-scrapped Press Complaints Commission, insisted today.