Scottish Independence: Murdoch enters the fray.

On the 6th September, the evening before the Sunday Times published the YouGuv opinion poll on Scottish independence in which the “Yes” campaign was reported to be on 51 percent against the “No” camp on 49 percent, Rupert Murdoch tweeted, ‘London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence. If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs’. He later followed this up with: Scottish independence means huge black eye for whole political establishment, especially Cameron and Milliband. (sic.)

These were the clearest indications yet that the media magnate and former Chairman and CEO of News Corporation appears to be positioning himself firmly in Alex Salmond’s “Yes” camp – his most recent tweets indicate a ‘wrestling’ with the issues, to be sure, but let’s look at why Murdoch’s support for “Yes” is entirely predictable.

Murdoch and Salmond have always had friendly relationship. In February 2012 Murdoch tweeted:  Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in U.K. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots. Whilst in notable contrast to the aloofness which characterises how Westminster MP’s now deal with Murdoch and News UK, Salmond is still, even in this post Leveson and phone hacking environment, ready to admit to affection for Murdoch. Asked if he liked him by Alistair Campbell in April’s GQ he stated: I do. He is a remarkable man. What is wrong with this relationship? Why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media?

Salmond certainly does engage: in the launch edition of the Scottish Sun on Sunday he wrote: I’m delighted to see the new edition of The Scottish Sun hit the streets The independence referendum in autumn 2014 will be chance for the whole country to have their say. The Scottish Sun will play an important part in the great debate on our future.’

This was fair enough – as in 2011 the daily Scottish Sun urged voters to re-elect Salmond, telling its readers, Play it Again, Salm: ALEX Salmond cares passionately about Scotland. He is ambitious for this country and has the drive, the personality and the policies to lead us through these troubled times. ‘

But does this close relationship go beyond reciprocative compliments? We know from the Leveson enquiry and subsequent admissions that Salmond planned to lobby the UK government on Murdoch’s behalf in News Corporation’s bid to take over BskyB completely in 2010.  We know, too, that Murdoch and Salmond met in Edinburgh 2012, in a meeting described by the First Minister’s office as ‘very constructive’. Under discussion was, ‘News Corporation’s substantial economic footprint in Scotland….and the potential for further investment within the country’  Rumour had it at the time, in speculation fuelled by former Murdoch acolytes Andrew Neil and Kelvin Mackenzie, that Murdoch was prepared to move BskyB to Scotland  in the event of an Independent nation. Mackenzie wrote in the Mail: a little bird tells me Mr Murdoch suggested a referendum winner would be an announcement that corporation tax for firms coming to an independent Scotland would be cut from the UK norm of 26 per cent to between 10-15 per cent. Tittle tattle maybe, but there is no denying that the proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland to 3p below the UK rate would prove attractive to any multinational company.

In another of his pro Salmond tweets Murdoch cited the BBC as the most ‘powerful media totally biased for no.’ As I’ve written elsewhere  as a decade’s long critic of the BBC, Murdoch has a commercial interest in a change in the broadcasting system of the UK. And it is a fact that an independent Scotland would have radical and far reaching consequences for the Corporation. The loss of income resulting from the disappearance of revenue from Scottish licence fees would impact in variety of ways. As former director General of the BBC John Birt has pointed out, in the space of just a few years, if Scotland became independent the BBC as we know it would effectively lose a quarter of its funding. Fundamental changes to BBC services would be unavoidable.

The support for the “Yes” campaign also allows Murdoch the opportunity to gain some sort of revenge on the political elite of Westminster which has so cruelly turned against him. He has dismissively referred to the ‘southern’ parties and world-wide disillusion with political leaders and old establishments, which would seem to sum up his personal attitude to the UK government in general. It is important to remember how far the influence of News International has waned – from the heady days of 2011 and when monopoly control of Sky was literally days away and Andy Coulson was ensconced in Number 10 to the phone hacking trial and Murdoch’s own farcical appearance before the Parliament select committee. No wonder he would wish to see Cameron and Milliband with ‘black eyes.’

But is his influence over News UK Scottish titles real or imagined? Andrew Neil tweeted on Sunday that there were strong indications from Murdoch and Salmond sources that Scottish Sun will back independence, despite protestations of London Sun Editor.  What is certainly true, as Roy Greenslade points out this morning, is that the newspaper is beginning to show all the signs of supporting “Yes”. Last Thursday one of its most popular columnists, Bill Leckie, declared his backing and today’s online edition  mocks the “NO” campaign pretty explicitly. The “NO” campaign is flagging, it states, the raising of the Saltire over Downing Street, ‘Another Pole Disaster’ a’boob’ in the charm offensive. And talking of ‘boobs’ further proof that Murdoch is back in the game and mischief making again was illustrated by his contribution to the page 3 debate: aren’t beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes? Your opinions please.

Watch this space.