The Leveson Report is being implemented very differently in Scotland. As you’d expect. If you’re Alex Salmond every issue is a chance to show how different Scotland is from the rest of the UK – so Leveson therefore was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He wants to include not only the print media, but the blogs too. It’s a sweeping power grab, ahead of the 2014 referendum – but already, it’s badly backfiring on him
Under the terms of the devolution settlement, Salmond has no power over the broadcasters. But there is no law stopping Holyrood from regulating the press: protection wasn’t included because back then press regulation was not on the agenda. Salmond found himself with some power, which he used as a bargaining chip with the press. He called for all party talks (which I attended) and then put to the respected retired judge, Lord McCluskey, a remit the group had not agreed.
The result? Incredibly draconian measures. If adopted, Scotland would not just be importing pandas from China – it’d be importing its internet laws. McCluskey recommends state regulation of the Internet, Twitter, indeed anything which publishes ‘news content’ which includes comment. Perhaps worst of all, regulation would be compulsory and Scottish ministers would have the power to appoint the regulator.
A misspelt tweet could get you in front of the state appointed censors. These are measures, in short, which would probably offend Vladimir Putin. All of this can only be understood in the context of the referendum and his desire to control the media in the run up to it. BBC Scotland is now supine. Bullied by Salmond, they toe the government’s line to such an extent that even some of their own journalists refer to the 8.10am slot on ‘Good Morning Scotland’ (the Scottish equivalent of the Today programme) as the SNP’s ‘Thought for the Day’. As far as Salmond is concerned, the press remains unruly. Even the SNP-supporting Sun has been fiercely critical at times.
At first Salmond welcomed the McCluskey report as ‘admirably clear’. Now he appears – appears mind you – to be in full retreat.
For once Westminster’s action is giving him a way out of a disastrous situation by agreeing with them.
Just a few days ago, he had hoped to dangle the sword of Damocles above the heads of the Scottish press. Now he is now wiping it for for prints and trying to bury in the garden. His mission now is how to implement parts of Leveson into Scots Law – and there are many issues. Exemplary damages are not currently in Scots Law, for example.
The fragile Scottish newspaper industry wants a UK wide solution – the best answer for press victims too. A separate Scottish regulator – as well as a UK one – would have been costly, cumbersome and cost some titles their existence. Salmond’s attempts to suborn the Scottish press have been stymied – for now.
Paul Sinclair is a former political editor of the Daily Record and adviser to Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour Leader.