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In my latest column for The Times I’ve looked at Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader who was rebranded by her party machine and turned into a media powerhouse, a tartan fusion – part Mary Queen of Scots and part Sharleen Spiteri from Texas, with a dash of Eva Peron. You can read it here.
But one curiosity emerged and I mentioned it in the column. The SNP leader recently made a taxpayer-funded trip to the US. It was a lavish affair in which she posed with Hillary Clinton,spoke at the UN and Stanford and pressed all the right progressive buttons for a centre-left audience back home.
There were secret meetings that Sturgeon’s public relations handlers – paid for by the taxpayer – were less keen to publicise, however.
I understand that those meetings were with Blackrock, the finance giant which coincidentally pays George Osborne over £600,000 a year for one day’s work per week. She also held a meeting with the vice-chairman of Morgan Stanley, I’m told.
Now, of course she should meet senior financiers, and a trip with Scotland’s Aberdeen Asset Management was highlighted online at the time. What is intriguing is that these other Wall Street meetings with financial service companies were not. It is almost as though they don’t quite fit with Sturgeon’s progressive image aimed at her left of centre base in the West of Scotland.
The First Minister’s spokesman would not confirm or deny the meetings to place, saying only that there were meetings with “stakeholders” that were “not media-facing.”
Not media-facing! What a euphemism.
This is a revealing little episode. As is so often the case it’s the small stuff that offers clues to the bigger picture and I wonder if the whole Sturgeon as media superstar routine hasn’t tipped over into hubris on her team. Sturgeon was there on the taxpayers’ dime and dollar. Voters have a right to know what she did and who she met when she was there spending our money.
Were there any other “stakeholder” meetings in the US that we weren’t told about? Let us hope as taxpayers that there were not, and that those meetings that did not happen were not SNP-related on a taxpayer-funded trip.
Something else is apparent, and it is not unique to the Scottish government. As the press has come under more pressure in the last decade, governments have become bolder and more blatant in their tactics when it comes to the press. That phrase “not media-facing” sums up the cheek.
This matters during an election period. In the UK we hacks accept that the governing party avoids whenever it can holding press conferences. Morning press conferences by the parties, where policy could be interrogated were once the norm. To his credit Jeremy Corbyn took questions at his event and seems determined to do more. With the Tories questioning by the press has all but disappeared to be replaced with staged events which are strictly controlled and curtailed before hacks can ask anything. We in the media should bite back, especially when the Tories have a runaway lead and total dud of an opposition leader.
That’s a different story, for another time.