Labour MP Jim Sheridan in full holier-than-thou mode on the Alex Salmond Six Nations row -
"Putting aside the offensive and deeply inappropriate language, I believe that Alex Salmond should not be using sporting events and sports personalities to further himself and his party’s separatist agenda...I believe it far more appropriate that Alex Salmond stick to the job the people of Scotland have elected him to do rather than moonlighting as a TV personality. As a member of the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, I intend to write to the BBC expressing my support for the view that politics should be kept out of sport and that sporting events and sports personalities should not be used in such a crass way."
OK, so I take it Jim has been a model of consistency on this topic, and threw a brick at the TV when he saw his own leader Gordon Brown on the field after the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, trying to (incongruously) cash in on England's success in getting there? Or what about Jack McConnell's lengthy interview during the TV coverage of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne? Or the countless thousands of other examples of politicians of all parties commenting on sport?
I must say I don't really give a monkey's whether Alex Salmond appears during the coverage of a rugby match or not - the issue is whether he's being treated differently simply because he is, in Sheridan's words, a "separatist" politician. And if he is being treated differently on that basis, that in itself constitutes a fundamental breach of the principle of impartiality. The idea that it would have been abnormal for a political leader to appear on such a programme simply doesn't stack up given the endless precedents - what is abnormal is for an invitation to be issued and them withdrawn. You would think in such circumstances that the justification given would be watertight, but it was anything but - the reference to the local elections just added to the impression that they were scrabbling around for any spurious reason they could think of, because we're way, way outside the statutory campaigning period.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that Ric Bailey subscribes to the grotesque Paxman worldview that Alex Salmond is not a "normal" politician (he's instead in the Mugabe or pre-ceasefire Sinn Féin category), and that completely different rules of engagement should therefore apply in relation to him. If so, the prospects for anything approaching even-handed coverage of the independence referendum look distinctly grim at this stage.