Scotland Names the Big Day and the Alex Salmond-Rupert Murdoch Relationship

Gerry Hassan

The Guardian Comment, February 26th 2012

The launch of ‘the Sun on Sunday’ may have caused shockwaves in media and political circles in the corridors of power in London, but its headline about an Amanda Holden exclusive surely didn’t.

North of the border things were very different where a distinct Scottish version of ‘the Sun on Sunday’ was even more eagerly awaited and didn’t disappoint.

This was following Rupert Murdoch’s tweet this week that he was in favour of Scottish independence, declaring, ‘Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win.’

The ‘Scottish Sun on Sunday’ lived up to the expectations with a front page proclaiming a ‘Day of Destiny’ and revealing that the date of the independence poll will be October 18th 2014.

This is a massive moment. The SNP Government is in the middle of their own official consultation on the mechanics and details of the independence poll. And while this is ongoing they have decided to breach their own processes, all for gaining the favour and a headline from the new Murdoch paper.

After Murdoch’s tweet, Salmond’s spokesman let it to be known that the two men had been in telephone conversation. Nothing to do with politics or editorial content, of course, all about jobs and investment.

The motivations are not hard to fathom. Murdoch, the arch anti-establishment figure in his own mind wants to have revenge on the British political classes who courted and then spurned News International. What better way than to threaten the breakup of that very state, the United Kingdom?

Then there is Alex Salmond, his idea of politics and Scotland. This seems to be fast developing the potential of becoming a content free zone and independence presented as continuity rather than any kind of change: an independent nation in name with the same crown, currency and even the possibility of NATO membership and nuclear weapons.

The implications of this are quite significant. The SNP’s success so far has been claiming the terrain of articulating Scottish interests and doing so in a centre-left manner. However, at the same time the SNP’s politics have been an ambitious ‘Big Tent’ coalition which runs from left-wingers to neo-liberals and social conservatives, from a ‘Red Scotland’ to ‘Scotland plc’ view of the world.

This is the same kind of politics as New Labour at its peak, of seeking to further progressive goals by entering into a Faustian pack with the forces of globalisation, and seeing the forces of power and privilege in the economy and society either as allies in this, or at least, forces which need to be neutralised.

With New Labour these forces were those of finance capital, the City, the consultant class waffle of ‘the knowledge economy’, and the Murdoch papers.

It really isn’t that different in part of the SNP vision. There was the same blindness by Salmond and others to the triumphalist masters of the universe of Fred Goodwin and RBS, and the same bloviator view of the world on the new economy, creativity and innovation.

Then there was Alex Salmond’s relationship with Donald Trump as the entire Scottish political class (Greens apart) eagerly declared ‘Scotland open for business’ and laid down before Trump’s ambitions for his self-declared ‘world class’ golf course in the sand dunes of Mennie in north east Scotland. This once passionate love-in has all turned sour, as the American tycoon has been infuriated by a plan for wind turbines near his golf development, and declared himself ‘personally betrayed’ by Salmond.

The Salmond-Murdoch and SNP-Murdoch press relationship has now been around for a while. ‘The Scottish Sun’ famously came out for the SNP in 1992 then changed its mind, and in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections endorsed the SNP. Salmond seems to like dealing with men of power and big beasts, but there does seem to be like leaders before him, a blind spot to their failings and the ethical dimension.

The bigger issue is the progressive agenda of Scottish nationalism. This has always been more implicit than explicit, based on a rejection of centre-right UK politics and a belief in the centre-left characteristics of Scotland. It has never been fleshed out by Salmond and the SNP, and their pursuit of ‘Big Tent’ politics and Murdoch’s endorsement, have to bring into question what kind of Scotland drives them.

What it does show in stark and rather helpful detail is that the progressive potential of Scottish nationalism, of a society championing solidarity, compassion and social justice, can no longer be left unsaid. It has to come centrestage in the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland, otherwise what is the point and difference of independence? And how has such a politics been aided by the SNP’s pursuit of Rupert Murdoch?