FMQs: Rupert Murdoch played Alex Salmond like a fool, opponents say

Alex Salmond defended his meetings with Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump at First Minister's Questions. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Salmond defended his meetings with Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump at First Minister's Questions. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ALEX Salmond endured one his worst batterings at the hands of opposition leaders during First Minister’s Questions as he was attacked over his dealings with the tycoons Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump.

• Opposition leaders attack SNP leader over ties with tycoons during First Minister’s Questions

• Alex Salmond insists he was advocating jobs for Scotland during meetings with Rupert Murdoch

• Manhattan dinner dates with Trump could have misled parliament

In a heated exchange in Holyrood on Thursday Mr Salmond was told he has “demeaned the office” of First Minister to win the businessmen’s favour.

The First Minister’s opponents poured scorn on his claim that safeguarding Scottish jobs was behind his willingness to lobby for Mr Murdoch’s ill-fated take-over of BSkyB.

And late on Thursday, the emergence of a “secret” meeting with the News Corporation chief in 2008 prompted further calls for Mr Salmond to explain his relationship with the media mogul.

Mr Salmond also faced claims of misleading parliament over a 2007 dinner date with Mr Trump in New York, during which the tycoon said he received assurances a wind farm would not be built near his North-east golf course, a claim strenuously denied by Mr Salmond.

‘The First Minister is demeaning the office he craved for so long’

Labour leader Johann Lamont told Mr Salmond at First Ministers Questions he was perhaps the “only senior politician in the world” ready to meet Mr Murdoch after it emerged the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked by the News of the World.

Ms Lamont said: “His newspapers might be being investigated for bribery, perverting the course of justice, destroying evidence and perjury, but Rupert is still welcome in Wee Eck’s house.

“Doesn’t the First Minister realise all he is achieving is to demean the office he craved so long? Alex Salmond is desperately trying to cover-up for the fact a rich man has played him for a fool. He is less a statesman, more a sucker.”

Mr Murdoch this week described his relationship with Mr Salmond as “warm” and said his Sun newspaper endorsed the SNP at last year’s election.

The First Minister insisted his dealings with the media tycoon, which included a January meeting with his son James, were motivated by “the prospects of employment in Scotland”.

He said that BSkyB employed more than 6,000 people in Scotland, but said “major job losses” were threatened last year when the company reduced the number of its contractors from nine to two. In July last year, after the Milly Dowler scandal broke, SNP MPs at Westminster had backed a motion asking Mr Murdoch to withdraw the BSkyB bid.

A separate Holyrood motion from October 2010 was signed by current SNP youth employment minister Angela Constance. Ms Lamont asked: “If this was really such a good job for Scotland, as the First Minister said last night, that jobs relied on it, why did the First Minister support his own MPs in opposing the deal?”

Mr Salmond told her: “That was after the revelations on phone hacking and Milly Dowler. I would have thought that is patently obvious.”

‘No assurances given against offshore wind’

It emerged this week that Mr Salmond told Murdoch aides that he would be prepared to lobby the under-fire UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to allow the BSkyB takeover, which collapsed in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister is fast becoming Murdoch’s defender in chief.”

Meanwhile, the fallout from Mr Trump’s appearance at Holyrood earlier this week continued, as Tory leader Ruth Davidson asked Mr Salmond why he had failed to disclose the dinner with Mr Trump in late 2007 when he was quizzed about his dealings with the Trump Organisation at Holyrood’s local government and communities committee three months later.

She said: “Did the First Minister intentionally mislead parliament, or did he just forget in the glory of supping with Murdoch one night that he had been supping with Trump the next?”

Mr Salmond said: “Let me repeat, this government has never given any assurance against a planning application for offshore wind in Aberdeen.”

The Tory leader added: “Is the First Minister asking the Scottish people to believe that when a multi-billionaire, attracted to Scotland with great fanfare by his predecessor, was threatening to pull the plug as soon as he took office, that he didn’t, like some latter-day Arthur Daley, tell his new best pal that he would get it sorted? Something here stinks.”

Mr Salmond challenged Ms Davidson’s assertion that Mr Trump looked “credible” during his appearance at Holyrood’s energy committee. He said: “When Donald Trump was asked what the evidence was for this great difficulty in Scottish tourism, he said: ‘I am the evidence’. I have to say it struck me not so much as ‘credible’. It’s a bit like the Judge Dredd view of tourism.”

In full: Meetings between Alex Salmond and Rupert Murdoch