Alex Salmond may feel he got a lot from cosying up to both Rupert
Murdoch and Donald Trump but, wow, is he paying the price.
The front page of today’s Herald captures the First Minister’s problems perfectly. The entire first half of the front, above the fold, is covered with two pictures, one of Mr Trump and
one of Mr Murdoch and the headline: ‘With Friends Like These.’ The strapline underneath states: ‘Salmond feels backlash from relationships with wealthy tycoons.’ The piece
itself starts with the following: ‘One hit him with a verbal broadside, the other lavished him with praise. But, for different reasons, Alex Salmond was feeling the heat yesterday over his
relationships with two powerful businessmen.’
The Herald is referring in part to Mr Trump’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament yesterday when the American entrepreneur claimed he had been ‘lured’ to invest in Scotland with
assurances that his golf course would not be affected by wind farms, only to be ‘betrayed’ by Mr Salmond later.
The paper is also referring to the disclosure yesterday that Mr Salmond appeared prepared to lobby the UK Government on behalf of Mr Murdoch. And, although Mr Salmond insisted yesterday that there
was no pay back, many of the Scottish papers do feel it is extraordinarily coincidental that the Scottish Sun then backed Mr Salmond very enthusiastically at the following Scottish elections
— elections which Mr Salmond won with a thumping majority.
The result is that, for the first time in a long while, Mr Salmond looks on very uncertain ground simply because of his decision to cosy up to two tycoons.
The Herald has done well linking the two together and it is the only Scottish paper to have successfully done so. In its editorial, the Herald warns that ‘mud will continue to stick’
and that ‘Mr Hunt, Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond all have questions to answer about their relationships with News Corp.’
The other papers have chosen to cover each one separately. The Times in Scotland covers Mr Trump’s extraordinary evidence session at the Scottish Parliament yesterday on page three and
prefers to keep the Salmond-Murdoch story back for its Leveson Inquiry spread later in the paper. It states: ‘Alex Salmond will come under pressure at Holyrood today when he faces questioning
from political opponents over claims that he offered to lobby on behalf of News Corporation in its £8 billion bid for control of BSkyB.’
However, the one paper which has chased Mr Salmond harder than any other over his relationship with Mr Murdoch is the Daily Telegraph’s Scottish edition. It devotes its splash to the story
under the headline: ‘How First Minister Won over Murdoch.’ And, inside, The Daily Telegraph’s Scottish Editor, Alan Cochrane, bemoans the failure of what he sees as the toothless
opposition parties at Holyrood to match his zeal when it comes to holding the First Minister to account on this issue. Mr Cochrane writes:
‘You will not be surprised to learn that I subscribe to the view that Mr Salmond treats Holyrood with contempt. However, I’m tempted to say that the Scottish Parliament and those
self-same opposition leaders deserve to be treated in such a way for the simple reason that if they allow this First Minister to walk all over them, then they shouldn’t be surprised
if that’s precisely what he does.’
Mr Salmond may try to fight his way out of this one with his usual bluster and bullying. That may work, but this whole tycoon saga is undoubtedly having a debilitating effect on the SNP
leader’s image. Mr Salmond has high popularity ratings in Scotland partly because he has successfully captured the high moral ground. He has cultivated a reputation for standing up for Scotland
against the so-called bully boys of Westminster and Whitehall. But if the voters start to believe that Mr Salmond will do anything and court anyone, however unsavoury, and use his position to secure
favours for tycoons, just to help his party and promote independence, then that reputation will inevitably be tarnished, possibly for good.
This is definitely a weakness for the First Minister. Like some of his Westminster counterparts, he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to powerful, wealthy men. How well he survives, though,
depends firstly on the Scottish press but also on the opposition leaders. If the First Minister is to be forced to make a statement to parliament, and really explain what he has been doing, then
neither side can afford to let up.
It will be interesting to see what happens.