By a Newsnet reporter
First Minister Alex Salmond has described the latest claims of impropriety made against him by Unionist politicians as “total nonsense”.
The SNP leader was responding to accusations by the Unionist parties at Holyrood that he had offered to lobby the UK Government over News Corp’s plans to take control of BskyB.
The accusations follow publication of an internal News Corp email that claimed an aide to Mr Salmond had promised he would contact UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, “whenever we need him to”.
The email emerged as News Corp chief James Murdoch gave evidence at the Leveson enquiry.
Asked if the First Minister had sought a deal that involved favourable press coverage, Mr Murdoch said: “If the insinuation is there was any quid pro quo with editorial coverage versus a commercial agenda I can tell you categorically that it is false.”
However Johann Lamont, Willie Rennie and David McLetchie joined together to accuse the First Minister variously of supporting Murdoch in return for support; of an “an outrageous exchange” and of hawking himself for “political favours”.
“It seems all that mattered to Salmond was that he would support Murdoch in return for Murdoch’s papers supporting Salmond – this stinks.” said Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie called for an investigation and said: “When the troubled media mogul said jump, it is clear that Alex Salmond was quick to say ‘how high?’
“We need an immediate investigation into the circumstances which led to such an outrageous exchange taking place.”
Conservative MSP 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.
“It is conduct unbecoming of a first minister, which has become all too familiar.”
However in a statement, a spokesman for the First Minister said: “These references, in a handful out of hundreds of emails, represent internal chatter from within News International.
“It is total nonsense to suggest there was ever any quid pro quo offered by the Scottish government over the BSkyB bid, and nor could there possibly have been, because the Scottish government had absolutely no determination over BSkyB’s ownership.
“Indeed, James Murdoch categorically rejected such claims in his evidence to the inquiry, and the proof of that lies in the fact that the first minister has never spoken to or corresponded with Jeremy Hunt on this issue.”
The spokesman added that Mr Salmond was invited “some time ago” to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and was looking forward to do so.
“The First Minister has certainly discussed News Corp’s operations in Scotland with James Murdoch, and it would be extraordinary if they had not done so given the fact the company employs many thousands of people here,”
Other emails not yet revealed by the Scottish media appear to call into question accusations that Mr Salmond was acting in anything other than Scotland’s economic best interests.
In one email dated 1st November 2010, it states: “His [Alex Salmond] team will also brief the Scottish press on the economic importance of News Corp for Scotland”.
News Corp currently employ 6000 people in Scotland and it is known that the First Minister recently held talks with Rupert Murdoch over his organisations plans for Scotland.
The Murdoch Empire turned against the Labour party shortly before the 2010 General election after years of strong support.
Update – 23:10
Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie appeared to blunder on STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight when she claimed that the email showed a link between the Sun’s support for the SNP and the First Minister’s support for the BskyB bid.
“I think the problem is the linkage in the email between the question of his support for the BskyB bid and the question of the Sun’s support for the SNP prior to the last elections.” she said.
The published email in fact makes no mention of any newspaper support whatsoever. Ms Baillie was immediately challenged by fellow guest, Colin Mackay, who insisted there was “no evidence” that the two things were connected.
Newsnet Scotland has also discovered suggestions that the Scottish Lib Dems were also supportive of the BskyB bid. In another communication a segment reads:
“He was very much taken by our commitment to Scotland and Alex Salmond’s desire to support us. He thought it was a strong ally to put forward, very contrarian/unexpected. Same for Scottish lib-dems.”
Speaking last night on Newsnight Scotland, Tavish Scott who was leader of the Scottish Lib Dems at the time, denied any knowledge of the email claim.
Read the emails here: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Exhibit-KRM-18.pdf