ALEX Salmond is defying calls to abandon his bid to introduce a new press regulation regime to Scotland, dubbed “McLeveson”.
The First Minister indicated that he would be involved in cross-party talks to set up a Scottish regulatory system in response to the Leveson Inquiry, despite opposition calls for the discussions to be led by Nicola Sturgeon.
Labour and the Lib Dems have said the Deputy First Minister should take charge of the move to set up a new body to scrutinise the press.
The First Minister’s opponents have argued that Mr Salmond should not lead talks because of remarks made about him by Lord Justice Leveson in his report this week.
During his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Salmond was questioned about his contact with media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his willingness to lobby the former culture minister Jeremy Hunt over the planned BSkyB takeover.
Lord Leveson said Mr Salmond had shown a “striking” readiness to lobby UK ministers on behalf of Mr Murdoch’s News Corporation.
The judge’s report said that, had Mr Salmond been successful in persuading UK ministers, his actions would have rendered any final deal “unlawful”.
Lord Leveson also said the First Minister was seeking political support from the Sun newspaper in the same conversation as he was repeating an offer to assist with the bid.
But the inquiry also said there was no evidence of a specific deal between Mr Salmond and the Murdochs to trade newspaper support for help with the bid.
Ultimately, Mr Salmond did not contact the UK ministers, despite indicating his willingness to do so. Lord Leveson concluded that he “cannot be criticised” because he must be “judged by what he did, as opposed to what he said he was prepared to do”.
Mr Salmond’s spokesman insisted that “of course” the First Minister “would be involved” in his proposal to set up an independent group to look at how best to implement the findings of the Leveson report north of the Border.
“He is the leader of the biggest party, so of course he will be involved,” the spokesman said.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said he was “disappointed” that Mr Salmond would not step aside.
“The Leveson Report criticised the First Minister for what he was prepared to do on behalf of News Corp,” Mr Rennie said.
“The fact that Mr Salmond didn’t get the opportunity to lobby ministers acting in a quasi- judicial role does not change the serious nature of the charge that he was prepared to entice ministers to act unlawfully.
“Mr Salmond should recognise that the best way of getting reforms to press regulation agreed swiftly is for him to let his deputy lead negotiations.
“Nicola Sturgeon has a track record of creating the consensus we need. On equal marriage and during the run-up to the Edinburgh Agreement, the Deputy First Minister worked well and worked quickly with other parties on issues that were not easy to come to agreement on.”
Labour’s Patricia Ferguson said: “This is entirely about getting the system right for the victims and it’s about making sure that system has the maximum amount of credibility.
“We think that Mr Salmond’s judgment in this entire scenario has been flawed. He should stand aside from this and allow another senior member of his government to take over the task.”
An SNP spokesman said: “This is a serious issue and should be treated as such. That means a grown-up, consensual approach is needed – not petty point-scoring.”