21 March 2012

The scandal of Scotland's hacking (non)scandal...

Quoth Alex Salmond at FMQs on the 8th of March, in response to a question from Willie Rennie about phone-hacking by newspapers...

"I do not know whether Willie Rennie managed to attend First Minister’s question time last week, when I reiterated and made absolutely clear my full support for the police investigations south and north of the border and my full support for the Leveson inquiry. Since the then Government did absolutely nothing about it, he should take on board the findings of operation Motorman. I promised last week that the document would be placed in the Scottish Parliament information centre, in case the identification by the information commissioner of potential criminality in respect of data protection had not been fully understood by members. I advise Willie Rennie to read the list, which extends across the London press—there are very few Scottish examples in the analysis. Every part of that document should be analysed, and we should support the police inquiries into phone hacking and the Leveson inquiry to the hilt."

The implication being, more or less, that save for the odd chancer and scallywag amongst the Scottish hacks, the invasive practices, blagging and the illegal acquisition of private data, were more or less limited to the London media and the spangled and sorry characters, unlucky enough to catch their eye. As Scottish politicians, we needn't trouble ourselves over much one way or the other. After you, Lord Leveson.  In point of fact, if you read the Information Commissioner's Operation Motorman reports, you will indeed find few Scottish titles, but Salmond oversimplifies. For simplicity, I'll quote my summary from this piece of last summer:

The Commissioner's second document contains a breakdown of transactions showing the extent to which journalists from different media outfits had made unlawful bargains to secure private data about individuals who attracted their curiosity. The table is dominated by papers published on a UK wide basis (there is no separate record, for example, about the News of the World operation in Scotland), but includes the Daily Record, with 7 transactions where private information was unlawfully tafficked for by two Record employees. A number of other papers have (or had) Scottish wings. The Commissioner does not break down these confirmed transactions by jurisdiction, so it is impossible to say on the basis of the published data what "share" Scotland might have in the News of World's 228 positively identified transactions, nor for that matter any of the other papers (many of whom ratcheted up far, far more identified transactions than the defunct News of the World).

For that reason alone, Salmond's bluff confidence in the Scottish press is utterly unwarranted, the aggregated UK data being equally consistent with rank invasions of privacy north of the Tweed - and with saintly press observance of legal norms. On the data published by the Information Commissioner, it is impossible to tell.  

Fascinatingly, the Sunday Herald published a very important article this weekend on the hitherto hidden Scottish aspects of Motorman. And a demolition of Salmond's self-congratulatory version of Scottish press exceptionalism it proves.  Based primarily on quotes from a key investigator involved in the Motorman investigation, the paper reveals that Ally "McCoist named as victim of black market in illegal information".  The investigator, Alec Owens, claims that:

"Amongst the files there were a lot of Scottish telephone numbers for reporters, a lot of Scottish numbers like 0141, 0131. A lot of numbers I recognised as Scottish. There were a lot of victims in Motorman that could be related as Scottish."

And that:

"There was a lot of information about ... Scottish reporters. One in particular, who I can't name, came out very strongly and, had we been allowed to do the job we wanted to do, he would have been in the top 10."

A few Scottish witnesses are appearing before the Leveson inquiry today, including the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Stephen House and Herald editor, Jonathan Russell, but Salmond is right in one respect. As a judicial proceeding sitting in London, presided over an English judge, under English procedure, assisted by English lawyers, Leveson has focussed pretty unstintingly on the activities of Fleet Street and the Metropolitan police. And fair enough too, to some extent.

But given the vast ambit of his terms of reference, overburdened by points of interests and questions to be examined, I'd be shocked if Leveson really has anything interesting to say about what has transpired north of the border. It simply isn't a priority among his many priorities. But shouldn't the subject interest Scottish politicians? Shouldn't this trouble parliamentarians who are generally keen to cultivate an alternative Scottish political space? Perhaps even trouble them into activity? Remember, press regulation is not a reserved matter under the Scotland Act. Devolved institutions may decide to defer to Westminster-ordained investigations, but they need not. Given this weekend's revelations from the Sunday Herald, the complacency and indifference of Scottish politicians about the implications of the hacking scandal for Scotland and in Scotland is increasingly inexcusable.


  1. They don't have the same interest in it as politicians down south because their phones weren't hacked, their emails weren't read, their bins weren't raked, their private lives weren't scrutinised etc.

    Whereas politicians down south knew all about dodgy practices because they were among the victims.

  2. The parochialism is astounding, and points to just how out of his depth he is in trying to curry favour with Murdoch.

  3. What's it got to do with Rupert Murdoch? If it's Stephen House's comments you mean a pound to a penny it was the Daily Record.

    Some of us might naively think it is actually Mr House's job to stop his officers giving tips to the DR for money but there you go. Clearly you think it is actually Alex Salmond's job. Hold the front page and all that. Personally I would hope Mr Salmond has better things to do with his time.

    And please please anyone thinking of mentioning the dreaded T word - he is a proven liar. Three quarters of the SSP Executive can't be wrong. News International may be all kinds of nasty but TS is still a liar.

  4. >> What's it got to do with Rupert Murdoch?

    Leave it out, Indy. This most certainly is about Salmond's certain insouciance over events in which Voldemort has been a key player, albeit ones which have widened to involve the print media in general.

    I'm not sure where King Louis comes into it.


  5. I would bet money that the journalist referred to as being in the top ten worked for the DR not the Sun but that’s not the point The point is there was not the widespread use of illegal tactics and blackmail in Scotland as there was down south – and Scottish politicians were not subject to the blackmail treatment that their Westminster colleagues appear to have been.

    So it’s actually not the same situation. That is not to say that there has been no malpractice but what would be the point in setting up a separate Scottish enquiry? If the Scottish Government had done that everyone would have accused them of jumping on the bandwagon in a rather pathetic way rather than allowing a UK wide enquiry to take its course.

    As for the idea of the SG bringing forward proposals to regulate the press Politically that would be impossible. It would have been absolutely impossible during the 2007-2011 administration because everyone would have said it was politically motivated There is no way in a million years they could have got that through Parliament and it might well have brought them down. And even with a majority it would still be impossible for the same reasons.

  6. "I would bet money that the journalist referred to as being in the top ten worked for the DR not the Sun"

    How much?

    But before you answer I'll give you a chance to withdraw that offer. Take a look at this: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/corporate/research_and_reports/what_price_privacy_now.pdf This sit he ICO report, ordered to be placed by Salmond in the information centre at Holyrood. The ICo report gives the Motorman figures on page 9. London papers? UK papers in the main - many of which have distinct scottish operations. And if you look down the list you will find the Record. 7 transactions from the Record involving two journalists. Now if 6 transactions where the journo was illegally accessing information is a top 10 figure within the UK I would be astonished given the figures from the Mail group, from the Sun, from the News of the World (each of which has Scottish operations).

    The ICO investigator's top 10 list is based on these figures.

    Next, bear in mind that the ICO report looked at Steve Whittamore - one private investigator. He was not the PI most used by the newspapers (as evidence to Leveson indicates). There were others. Some doing much worse stuff than Whittamore.

    LPW has correctly identified a problem that some of us have been banging on about for months and months. See the pieces by Iain Hepburn. See my own pieces on it. Motorman identified a UK problem. We did not know the extent of the problem in Scotland but we knew Scotland was involved. And from 2006 despite knowing Scotland was involved no party in Scotland was interested. And when this finally blew up last year it took days for the SNP response to emerge but finally the First Minister spoke, and his response was disingenuous. This was a Westminster problem. Westminster had not acted. Westminster had not got things in order. For Salmond and the SNP to pretend this is a Westminster problem arising from Westminster inaction is ridiculous.

    The conduct of the press is clearly devolved. But since 2006 there was silence (by all parties). No calls on the press to answer for their behaviour. No calls for a police investigation. No investigation of the Motorman report in scotland - despite the power to follow it up lying fully within the competence of the Scottish government.

    Even if Salmond's analysis was correct - that this was a Westminster problem - the SNP issued no statements, raised it in no debates, asked no parliamentary questions (not even a written question).

    So what have we ended up with? A Scottish government happy to have serious breaches of criminal law in Scotland looked at, as tangential issues, by an English judge, English barristers, in an inquiry under English procedure - where of necessity the primary focus is elsewhere. That is far from satisfactory.

    And to a cynical outsider this lack of political will to examine the issues in Scotland, to pretend effectively that there was no problem (or a minimal problem) in Scotland at a time where certain sectors of the media (who happen to appear highly on the Motorman list) are courted.

  7. Alongside hacking, the Leveson Inquiry is looking at intrusive media behaviour. I chair Trans Media Watch, which made a substantial submission to the Inquiry in respect of this. We have identified identical behaviour in the Scottish press and would be able to provide a fully substantiated dossier of information to any inquiry here. We are simply waiting to be given the opportunity.

    Mr Murdoch is no Donald Trump and if Mr Salmond thinks he can string him along the same way, keeping him onside until he's no longer useful, he may be in for a nasty surprise. I would strongly recommend that he set aside his supposed friendship and move ahead with an inquiry now, before he finds himself attacked from both sides.

  8. "...Salmond's bluff confidence in the Scottish press..."

    Where did you see that? It certainly wasn't in any of the comments attributed to the Alex Salmond.

    What the hell is wrong with letting the Leveson inquiry run its course? This does not preclude proceedings in Scotland should there be sufficient grounds. And, whatever some may be hearing from the voices in their heads, the FM most certainly has not ruled out any such proceedings.

  9. Indy, you'll so confidently argue that black is white and vice versa that I'm left wondering if you genuinely believe such cant or think everyone else is thick as mince in the neck of a bottle.

    Lallands' point is that no matter how much the totality of what Salmond says - that there are negligible Scotland-based names mentioned by Motorman - is correct, the events of the past 12 months should show how far out of their complacent socks a great many public figures have been knocked.

    Likewise, just 'cos Motorman was commissioned before the Murdoch's Luciferian perch came under assault should make NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER to any need for introspection and self-analysis of the Scottish print media to anyone who aint a one-eyed, monomaniacal Nat (recall Lallands is SNP).

    Even setting aside the unfortunate timing of this weekend's revelations, a quick consideration of the blagging of Fraser Brown's medical records at the RIE or the conduct of the _Scottish_ Sunday Express towards the Dunblane survivors' teenager-like behaviour to should show just how shaky ground anyone showing insouciance towards any question of misconduct within the Scottish Fourth Estate is on.

    And, once more, where did the one about King Louis come from?

    PETER A BELL >> What the hell is wrong with letting the Leveson inquiry run its course?

    As Lallands said, Leveson's ambit is going to include Scottish affairs only tangentially if at all, and the print media aint a Reserved matter (not that this has stopped Salmond before, as with Copenhagen for instance). So, responding to him - Lallands is a him, right? - in this manner is simply question begging.

    Hang on, did Salmond not say that as much as banking regulation for those nasty London banks being advizable, the likes of HBoS or RBS were made of more prudent stuff and didn't need intervention?

    Why, yes, yes he did.


  10. Elaine Decoulos22 March 2012 at 21:52

    Considering my problems with the press began in Scotland, it is likely something will be found in Motorman related to me. The Daily Mail went to Islay looking for me, but I had already left the isle.

    What can and cannot be reported at Scottish courts needs to be clarified. I was stitched up by The Court of Session in Edinburgh, which does not seem to have a clear procedure on what can and cannot be reported. The English courts have a procedure, but as usual, it's ripe for abuse.

    And lets not forget that the worse story to come out of Leveson thus far is what happened to the Watsons. Nothing to do with phone hacking, but with the reporting of their daughter's murder trial. Absolutely horrendous. Their son then committed suicide over the press reports. This is shocking in a democracy. How could they have been put through this? What happened to them did not get enough attention from the press or Leveson.

  11. Elaine, forgive my foggy-headedness... which Watsons?


  12. The Watsons evidence was very powerful and was given early in the inquiry. It related to a series of reports in the Herald and have led to a consultation on whether or not the dead can be defamed in Scotland.

  13. Oh, shit, Diane Watson... I was taken in, at the time, by the misreporting of her murderer's motivation 'cos of my own experience at the receiving end of bullying.

    Is Jack McLean dead? There are a lot of things I'd like to say about him.


  14. I can confirm that Jack McLean is still amongst the living. He's a regular face in a few pubs in the Southside of Glasgow.

  15. Elaine Decoulos25 March 2012 at 23:19

    And I believe the Herald published an apology to the Watsons the day after they gave evidence. Does Jack McLean still work for them?

    Unbelievably, when the editor of The Herald gave evidence to Leveson in January, I do not believe he was asked about the reporting on Diane Watson's murder trial, nor what happened to the Watsons. I could not believe it. What is the point of the Inquiry if it does not look into serious matters such as this?

    And it was a golden opportunity for the Inquiry to raise court reporting, but they ignored it. Strange...Before the Inquiry commenced, I asked Lord Justice Leveson if it was going to include Scotland and I did not get an answer. Yet, it was confirmed when Jay QC gave his opening submissions. It covers all devolved territories!

    JK Rowling also gave substantial evidence of her experience with the press in Scotland.

    For the record, I have been seeking to become a Core Participant in the Inquiry and there is something very odd about the process. It is far from transparent. I would call it bordering on dodgy.