Hamish Macdonell

A pair of tycoons has put Salmond on uncertain ground

A pair of tycoons has put Salmond on uncertain ground
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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.’

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.