First Minister’s Questions, the continuing smear campaign and the worry for Unionists


By G.A.Ponsonby
The smear campaign against Alex Salmond has almost run its course.
The final flurry of rhetorical ‘below-the-belt’ punches has now been thrown in the shape of another carefully stage managed piece of nonsense; namely, Labour calling for a separate Scottish inquiry into phone hacking.

The calls are as impractical as they are ridiculous, but they have allowed the Unionist media machine to further soil what should have been coverage of the campaign for Scotland’s local authority elections, with more Labour muck.

It dominated First Minister’s Questions with all three Unionist leaders adopting a variation of the theme in their own inimitable, but utterly predictable, way.

Johann Lamont sashayed through yet another session sounding even more bitter than Iain Gray ever did, and she hasn’t even lost her first election yet – not long to wait though one suspects.

The questions were of course based on the same baseless innuendo that has fed the Scottish media this last week, or rather the Scottish media has been feeding us this last week.

Johann Lamont tried to put meat on the skeletal smears by introducing a rather bizarre bid by Rupert Murdoch to purchase ITV news.  “What made her change her mind” asked Lamont of the Deputy First Ministers objection to the bid.  It was a rather puzzled First Minister who reminded the Labour leader that she had mixed up two different bids.

Ms Lamont though was quickly back on theme and the remainder of her questions were platforms for the new claims that Salmond was preventing an inquiry into phone hacking because he was Rupert Murdoch’s friend.  “He owns the SNP”, bellowed the Iain Gray mini-me.

The attacks were dealt with when the First Minister informed the chamber that the alleged illegality and phone hacking happened when Labour were in power at Westminster and Holyrood, and they had failed to take any action.

The three Unionist leaders morphed into a troupe of inquiry independistas, with each trying their best to remove Scotland from the Union as far as the Leveson inquiry was concerned.  The inquiry is UK wide, which pretty much destroys these demands for a separate Scottish one.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s effort was memorable only because of her blundering insistence that the Leveson Inquiry was an “English Inquiry”.

“We have a First Minister who’s willing to speak at an English inquiry but not hold one in Scotland” she said.

Red faced Davidson had to finish her stint to howls of laughter.  A spectacular gaffe, her former BBC colleague Sarah Paterson might have called it … had it been the First Minister.

Willie Rennie’s contribution was farcical in the extreme with references to “Morris Dancing” and “Trafalgar Square” peppering his mercilessly brief stint.

The session, as far as Lamont, Davidson and Rennie were concerned was acutely embarrassing and the Scottish media must be thankful that the local elections will arrive tomorrow and they can get back to demanding an early referendum and attacking Scottish renewables.

There’s no doubt that the whole media bandwagon has been created in order to deflect attention from the local election campaign.  In days gone by the euphemism used to describe Glasgow council was “Scotland’s largest local authority” as Stephen Purcell was wheeled into the TV studio to attack the SNP.

Now of course Labour are left with Gordon Matheson whose council tax freeze fiasco would have been torn to shreds had he appeared anywhere near a microphone and camera.

The week has though provided a sneak preview into what the final months of the independence referendum will look like, and this is what should worry Unionists and sooth Nationalists.

Wall to wall smears, attacks and baseless accusations have smothered almost every other political news story, even the UK entering recession hasn’t stopped the juggernaut.  Almost every aspect of the Murdoch story that may have damaged Labour has been played down, or as in the case of operation Motorman report, completely ignored and every tenuous smear against the First Minister has been promoted.

So, what happens if the SNP overcome the tidal wave of sludge and emerge victorious?  What happens if the local elections throw up a similar scenario that faced the Unionists at the Scottish Government elections last year?

Yes, the media will downplay the result and point to, what will almost certainly be a low turnout, as evidence of its irrelevance.  However that won’t mask the fact that the smear tactic has failed, if indeed it does.

Make no mistake, this is a virtual dry-run referendum that will test the theory that a negative campaign will not trump the positive.  These personal attacks on the integrity of Alex Salmond can be viewed as a rehearsal for the real thing and it is hard to imagine a more concerted effort than the one we are currently witnessing.

If Alex Salmond and his team cross the finishing line well ahead of Labour on Friday then expect some very long faces in Scottish newsrooms on Friday morning and watch for civil war breaking out within Labour as recriminations begin over a campaign that was invisible.

A Scottish phone-hacking inquiry?  Every man-jack journalist in Scotland knows this is politicised nonsense.

It isn’t the SNP that doesn’t want one, Labour would run a mile if it meant one Kirkcaldy MP, Gordon Brown, being summoned to appear in front of a Holyrood Committee to explain why he failed to act on the Motorman Report in 2007.

There’s also the small matter of the seventeen meetings Mr Brown had with Rupert Murdoch.