Opposition ministers have accused Alex Salmond of “pre-misuse” of taxpayers’ money after it emerged the Scottish First Minister once pondered a trip to the Moon.
Salmond’s readiness to intervene in the BSkyB bid and lobby the Westminster government on behalf of News Corp was motivated by an anxiety to help Scotland, according to the Leveson report. It then later emerged that a little-reported appendice to the Leveson tome, brought to light by an unpaid Better Together intern, has dragged the First Minister deeper into the mire. The appendice in question referred to an answer Mr Salmond gave at the Leveson inquiry earlier this year. The inquiry’s Robert Jay questioned Mr Salmond on his stance on Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB:
I think it’s fairly clear from what you’ve just said, Mr Salmond, that certainly from the date of this meeting with Mr James Murdoch you were in favour of the bid. Is that right?”
Mr Salmond replied:
Yes. I was in favour of what benefited the Scottish economy. Remember, I have no responsibility for broadcasting policy, I have no responsibility for plurality in the press, but I do have a responsibility for jobs and investment in Scotland. That is my statutory responsibility. Indeed, it’s reflected not just in the fact it’s my responsibility, it’s actually reflected in our Ministerial Code in Scotland that it is one of the responsibilities that you must pursue. Even if you have to go to the Moon to do it. Ha!“
Ministers leapt on the new findings of the report and took to the mainstream press to put things right. Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, said Leveson’s conclusions raised significant questions about Salmond’s conduct:
Alex Salmond was already the most heavily criticised politician in this report, and this Moon malarky just makes things worse. It confirms that the First Minister stands ready to waste millions of taxpayers’ money by jaunting off into space in the so-called best interests of Scotland. And he was laughing as he suggested it!
“The fact that there’s not even any people on the Moon just goes to show that the First Minister is out of his depth, and the only thing stopping this wrongdoing and pre-misuse of cash is the fact we don’t have any spaceships kicking around big enough to fit him in. Oh, and that space policy is reserved to Westminster. He is a really bad man!”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:
Not content with wowing us by impersonating Nixon, Clinton, Del Boy and Shaun of the Dead, we can add yet another moniker to the SNP leader’s CV – Alex Salmond is the First Manister on the Moon.
“Neil Armstrong would be turning in his shuttle-shaped grave at this news. Mr Salmond lives in his own orbit, happily munching away at his Milky Ways and pretending the massive asteroids destroying his policies don’t exist. “Alex Salmond would be the first to say he isn’t winning any races, and the Space Race certainly isn’t one of them.”
Piers Morgan, now a successful television host in the United States, waded in on the row over Twitter.
That Salmond, what a twonk. UK papers doing a fine job. His thoughts are much worse than my outright bare-faced lies and must be monitored!”
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said:
Once again Alex Salmond shows his true colours when it comes to wasting money. He single-handedly spent something like a billion pounds going to play golf in America for no reason whatsoever, and now wants to splash out again so he can stink the place up with Moon cheese. Leveson’s report on the disgraceful actions of the First Minister has been welcomed and the suggestions must be implemented before Salmond tries to relocate part of the British Isles into outer space.”
When asked if she knew what the Leveson report was actually about, Ms Baillie waffled something about Mr Salmond being a “numpty” for potentially costing a billion Scots their jobs. Leveson’s report, about the standards of the press, evaluated in the Salmond section:
I have absolutely no doubt that Mr Salmond was motivated by an anxiety to help Scottish employment and to benefit Scotland generally: that is entirely laudable and exactly what is the expectation and proper function of the First Minister. He appreciated that employment whether in Scotland or elsewhere was not a relevant consideration and, in fact, he never contacted either Dr Cable or Mr Hunt to argue the contrary. Judged by what he did, as opposed to what he said he was prepared to do, therefore, he cannot be criticised.”
This heavy criticism was helpfully pointed out by all ministers, journalists and other media bodies in the mainstream press. A spokesperson for the SNP said:
This supposed line about the Moon was scribbled in afterwards by the same Better Together intern who ‘revealed’ it. He even said so on their official Facebook page and posted an image of it. But the opposition parties and the press they have cosied up with wouldn’t let that spoil a good story.