The SNP have condemned Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson for her “absurd and hypocritical” response to the McCluskey report, which was published yesterday.
In a number of media outlets, Ms Davidson claimed that the report was a “shameless attempt by the First Minister to shackle a free press at a time of the utmost political sensitivity”.
Ms Davidson’s Conservative colleagues in the Coalition government have made clear their opposition to statutory press regulation, as recommended by the Leveson Inquiry, and instead prefer a voluntary system regulated by Royal Charter. However the McCluskey Report, which investigated how to implement the Leveson findings under Scots Law, strongly advised against a voluntary system, with Lord McCluskey saying that he had “little confidence” that such a system would work.
The report also recommended that if Westminster fails to produce a suitable regulator, Scottish ministers should consider legislation in order to ensure that Scottish residents “can be adequately protected from abuse”.
The Tory leader said:
“The expert group was instructed by Alex Salmond to find ways of implementing a law to control the press and that’s exactly what it has done.
“Its remit was so narrow it was inevitable a proposal for a new press law would be the outcome.
“It is unacceptable that both the operation and funding of the new regulator would be overseen by a ‘recognition commissioner’ appointed by Scottish Government ministers.
“This is not statutory underpinning but statutory control which would give Scotland some of the most draconian press controls in the western world.
“With the First Minister now saying he will consider the expert group’s findings there’s a real danger the threat of legislation will be kept hanging over the heads of editors as the referendum approaches.
“Even more astonishing is the proposal for the regulator to be responsible for news comment on the internet and for the newspaper industry to provide all the funds.
“It cannot be right that an industry already in crisis should be expected to pay for the regulation of the very thing that’s killing it off.
“We are however pleased that the expert group has recognised there’s no specific need for a Scotland-only regulator and a single regulator can operate across the whole UK as at present.”
Commenting on Ms Davidson’s remarks, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said:
“Ruth Davidson’s reaction is absurd and hypocritical – if this is the best the Tories can do, no wonder David Cameron has made such a hash of the situation at Westminster.
“This is an independent report, agreed by a Panel which includes a member nominated by Ruth Davidson, as well as nominees from other parties.
“The fact of the matter is that press regulation is a devolved responsibility, and there is a process of all-party talks to consider the recommendations of the Leveson report in Scotland, which the Scottish Government has made clear will continue and which the Scottish Conservatives are part of. These talks will consider this independent report, and the Scottish Government has made clear it will consider all views.
“This ridiculous statement from Ruth Davidson does a disservice to the seriousness of the issues, and is simply insulting to the members of the McCluskey Panel – including the member nominated by Ms Davidson – as well as to others involved in this process. If this is the Tory attitude to achieving consensus, it’s very clear why the equivalent process at Westminster is in such a mess.”