As journalists scramble to find out what different members of the coalition and Labour party think about press regulation in the run-up to tomorrow’s publication of the Leveson report, one party has been largely overlooked.
It is a little-known fact that press regulation, unlike rules for broadcasters, is a devolved matter. So the person making the decision on whether or not to put Leveson’s proposals into law in Scotland is Alex Salmond, not David Cameron.
Until this morning, Salmond had remained curiously quiet on the issue, but today he spoke out.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, Salmond said:
A lot of fears have been raised that Lord 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.
On the other hand if he said, ‘Oh, laissez faire, all’s for the best, the best of all possible worlds’ – I don’t think he is going to do that incidentally – then that also would be inadequate because clearly the current voluntary system is broken.
What Salmond is saying in effect is that he will block any attempt to bring in statutory regulation of the press in Scotland. Cameron, meanwhile, has been careful in making no such promise.
It is highly plausible that Leveson could recommend some form of statutory underpinning to press rules, and David Cameron could feel he has little option to back the plan. If that happens, we could end up with different regulatory systems – and therefore a very different press – in England and Scotland.