ALEX Salmond has conceded he had agreed to lobby UK ministers to support News International’s multi-billion takeover of BSkyB, insisting that anyone who questioned his actions “shouldn’t be in politics”.
• BSkyB takeover would have been ‘good for Scotland’, First Minister says
• Opposition parties insist Salmond was seeking ‘political support’
• SNP adviser had been in contact with News International
The First Minister said the now-defunct £8 billion bid by News International to take full control over BSkyB would have been good for Scotland, given the firm’s business activities north of the Border.
But he was lambasted by opposition parties in Scotland last night, who said his real reason was to seek “political support” from Rupert Murdoch ahead of last year’s Scottish elections.
In evidence yesterday at the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Murdoch said Mr Salmond had never “explicitly” asked him for support from News International newspapers. “But of course Mr Salmond is a politician,” he declared in his witness statement.
On Tuesday, e-mails released by the media group showed NI executives discussing how the First Minister was available “whenever we need him” to persuade Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to back the bid.
Afterwards, Mr Salmond dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” any suggestion that he had phoned or written to Mr Hunt on the matter.
Yesterday, however, Mr Salmond revealed that while no call had taken place, this was only because circumstances changed over the bid, which collapsed last summer in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
The First Minister’s offer of support in February and March last year came at the same time as Scotland’s best-selling daily newspaper, the Sun, was considering whether to back the SNP at last year’s Scottish elections.
Twenty-four hours after the e-mails from NI were published, and after saying he had not contacted Mr Hunt on the matter, Mr Salmond acknowledged that he had agreed to make a call to the Culture Secretary.
He told the BBC: “I thought Scottish interests should be taken into account at some point in the deliberations [of BSkyB] that had to be made by UK secretaries of state. Far better to do it on that basis than to do it on the politics of whether they liked or didn’t like Rupert Murdoch.”
He went on: “I would have been delighted to articulate that position if the opportunity had presented itself. As it turned out the opportunity didn’t present itself through a combination of circumstances.
“Arguing for the Scottish interest is what this government does. Anyone who thinks we shouldn’t do that, they shouldn’t be in politics.”
The Scottish Government also confirmed yesterday that one of Mr Salmond’s poltical advisers, Geoff Aberdein, had been in contact with NI in February last year to discuss Scottish Government support for the bid.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Mr Aberdein acted entirely appropriately throughout in helping the First Minister to make the case for jobs and investment.”
However, in a joint letter, Labour’s Johann Lamont, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and the Liberal Democrats’ Willie Rennie all called on him to make a full statement on his relationship with the Murdochs.
The letter declared: “The First Minister cannot be allowed to treat the Scottish Parliament as second class.”
Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott said Mr Salmond’s support for NI “has nothing to do with what is best for Scotland”.
He added: “Mr Murdoch has said that he knows very little about the SNP. Mr Salmond was seeking political support from the disgraced media mogul.”
As part of his testimony to the inquiry, Mr Murdoch was asked at length about his relationship with Mr Salmond. In his witness statement, the News Corp chairman wrote: “He has not explicitly asked me for the political support of Nl’s titles and we have not discussed any such support, but of course Mr Salmond is a politician.”
Mr Murdoch then told the inquiry: “He’s an amusing guy and I enjoy his company, I enjoy talking with him, or listening to him.”
Mr Murdoch also suggested he had had a say on the decision by the Scottish edition to support the SNP at last year’s elections.
Asked whether he had “contributed” to the decision, he replied: “I don’t remember, but probably yes.”
On the paper’s stance on independence, he went on: “Well, it’s a little emotional, but I am attracted by the idea. But I’m not convinced, and so I said we should stay neutral on the big issue, but let’s see how he [Alex Salmond] performs.”
Meanwhile, Mr Salmond’s office last night denied Labour Party claims that he had pulled out of this evening’s BBC Question Time programme over the affair. They said he had not been confirmed as a guest and that he was attending a funeral today due to a family bereavement.