Two days ago, I wrote about the possibility that the regulatory systems governing the press could differ in England and Scotland in the wake of the Leveson report. Unlike broadcast media, print regulation is a devolved issue, so for Scottish papers, it is the response of Alex Salmond that matters, not David Cameron.
Two days ago, it looked like Salmond was positioning himself to back a more liberal system than the Westminster government might. He told BBC Scotland:
A lot of fears have been raised that Lord [Justice] Leveson is going to recommend state regulation of the press, and I don’t think he will incidentally, and I can’t see there’s going to be a currency of support for that in Scotland. We value our free press far too much.
His words were chosen carefully to allow him maximum room for manoeuvre, however, and after the report was published, he said that he did back Leveson’s recommendation for a statutory framework, which he said was not the same as state regulation. He said:
I am supportive of the conclusions of Lord Leveson, who has set out clearly the difference between statutory regulation of the press on the one hand and the argument for statutory underpinning of self-regulation on the other.
That puts us very much in the territory of the Press Council of Ireland which I think might well provide a good template for the way forward. Clearly, we will have to be satisfied that this can be done within the necessary context of a free press.
Cameron, of course, has explained he is highly reluctant to introduce a state-backed regulator, which means we could end up with a stricter system north of the border.
For any British-wide paper, this has huge consequences. Unless they have the resources to write different versions of every story to comply with the two different regulatory systems, they will end up simply having to comply with the stricter. We should be watching what happens in Scotland as carefully as what is happening in Westminster.