The News International scandal poses some difficult questions for the Scottish Government, says DUNCAN HOTHERSALL

 

The epicentre of the News International earthquake this week has undoubtedly been London, but tremors have been felt north of the border too.

I can genuinely say that watching my party leader shake off the shackles of the Murdoch media game in the House of Commons was one of my proudest moments as a Labour member. Though there was much to admire in New Labour, the calculated pursuit of editorial support via socially conservative justice policies was one of its worst features, and it is only this decisive shift away from editor-wooing which has truly marked Ed as a post-New Labour leader.

Success in this move will only be possible if all other parties agree the same shift of principle. David Cameron, almost fatally weakened by the scandal, can’t afford to do anything else though will need to be carefully watched. The Lib Dems, to their credit, never sold their soul to Murdoch – they were saving it for the coalition negotiations in which it became a most effective bargaining chip.

But attention is now focusing on the SNP. The Scottish Sun and the Scottish News of the World surprised many when they gave a personal endorsement to Alex Salmond ahead of May’s election, though cynics quickly asserted that this was nothing more than a Tory plan to hurt Labour. But questions are now being asked about Salmond’s relationship with the Murdoch empire, and it would behove him to come clean, as the UK party leaders have, on the meetings and discussions he had in the lead-up to that major shift on Murdoch’s political alignment in Scotland.

I think the Labour Party has an opportunity to take a lead on this issue in Scotland just as it has in the UK. We have a close relationship with Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Daily Record, and we should take the initiative now to outline how that relationship has worked in the past, and how we want media relations to work in the future. In particular, I think we could meet the public mood by setting out an open and accountable approach to media relations for the party in Scotland from now on. When we meet with editors we should declare it. When we employ people with connections to newspapers we should declare that too.

Labour could become the gold standard in open and accountable media relations in the internet age, and in so doing we could force other parties to meet the same standards and immeasurably improve the quality of political discourse in this country.

Duncan Hothersall is a Labour Party member and was the founding chair of Pride Scotland as well as a founding director of the Equality Network. Follow Duncan on Twitter at @dhothersall.