Minutes earlier, Murdoch had given the clearest indication yet that he was warming to the prospect of independence, saying: “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win.”
Most political commentators, however, believe Salmond was being coy. Despite the hacking scandal, the Leveson inquiry and Murdoch’s growing pariah status, they say he is delighted by the support, especially if it means the Scottish Sun, with its 300,000-plus readership, and its newly-launched sister the Scottish Sun on Sunday, come out in favour of a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum.
Murdoch’s support for the SNP is not unprecedented; in 1992, whipped up into a Braveheart frenzy by the then Scottish Sun editor, Bob Bird, who took a piper all the way to Wapping, he was persuaded to back the Nationalist cause. Murdoch, however, proved fickle. In 2007, on the eve of the Scottish Parliamentary election, the front page of the Scottish Sun carried a hangman’s rope in the shape of the SNP logo, with the headline “Vote SNP today and you put Scotland’s head in the noose”.
Since then Salmond, who in that election became First Minister leading a minority government, has courted Murdoch assiduously. But why has Murdoch chosen this moment to give his personal backing to the SNP? Has the Australian-born US citizen – who has always felt a strong connection to the Caledonian home of his forebears – been overcome by the romantic notion of Scottish independence? Is he trying to cock a snook at the British establishment that he feels has deserted him in his hour of need?
Or is he genuinely convinced that, as so often before, he is backing a winner?