ALEX Salmond offered to lobby UK ministers in support of News International’s takeover of BSkyB “whenever we need him to”, according to e-mails released to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.
The First Minister was accused of “hawking himself around” to curry favour after the publication of an e-mail in which a senior executive at the news organisation told the company’s former chairman, James Murdoch, that Mr Salmond would call the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in support of the BSkyB bid.
Mr Salmond also chased up executives at the news organisation, hoping they could “smooth the way” to ensure the Sun backed the SNP ahead of last year’s Scottish elections, according to a slew of e-mails made available to the inquiry.
They show the First Minister invited News International executives to dinner at his official residence of Bute House and offered support for a campaign they were running on fisheries policy.
The Scottish Government claimed the e-mails “represent internal chatter” from within News International, insisting it was “total nonsense” to claim Salmond and News International forged a deal to give backing for the BSkyB bid in return for support from the Sun. The e-mails were released yesterday after one of the most dramatic days of evidence to the inquiry, as Mr Murdoch, was questioned about allegations of phone hacking.
The first, dated 11 February last year is from Frederic Michel, News International’s director of public affairs. He writes: “I met with Alex Slamond’s adviser today. He will call Hunt whenever we need him to.”
The second, dated 3 March, records a phone call from Mr Salmond to Mr Michel, following up a “very good dinner” which Mr Salmond had with the editor of the Sun in Scotland.
It declares: “The Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election. The editor will make his pitch to the editorial team tomorrow. Alex wanted to see whether we could help smooth the way for the process.”
Mr Michel added: “He also asked whether we could go for dinner at Bute House before the election campaign kicks off on the 22nd March. On the Sky bid, he will make himself available to support the debate if consultation is launched.”
But last night Mr Salmond was accused of “shaming Scotland” by opposition parties, who said it was further evidence he was using the office of First Minister for his own political ends.
Giving evidence to the Inquiry, James Murdoch, who had lunch with Mr Salmond while he was spearheading the Sky bid, rejected claims that Mr Salmond’s help was in return for him getting political support from the Scottish edition of the Sun.
Responding to yesterday’s revelations Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, said: “Now we know how Alex Salmond operates.”
Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman David McLetchie said: “What has emerged today is that Alex Salmond was happy to hawk himself around as a lobbyist on behalf of the Murdoch empire in return for political favours.