I am, by nature, by inclination, by training and by habitual practice, a rather analytical person. Those who know me well would probably scoff heartily at this as a bit of an understatement. They might instead suggest that I tend to take an issue, any issue, and methodically pick it to shreds before embarking upon a minute forensic examination of the fragments. I rarely take things at face value. I nurture a healthy scepticism and a cynicism that would be rather less healthy did I not strive to keep it in check.
I rarely accept that there are only two sides to a story and if I see no more than both sides of an argument then I reckon I am missing something potentially crucial. For me, every shade of grey is infinitely divisible and to fail to appreciate life's rich complexity is to be guilty of the kind of intellectual indolence that I deeply regret in others and abhor in myself on those occasions when, being but human, I fall into error.
I am not claiming some extraordinary, Holmesian deductive ability here. I am merely describing the manner in which I approach any matter that comes up for my consideration. It is no more than any other individual might be capable of. Regrettably, this human capacity for analytical thinking is one which all too many choose to forego in favour of the facile certainties and convenient affirmations that are the free gifts in every pack of mindless prejudice.
Which naturally brings us to the matter of the internal News Corp email correspondence submitted to the Leveson inquiry yesterday and the manner in which the four relevant emails have been seized upon by those who harbour an obsessive, all-consuming, intellect-crippling hatred of Alex Salmond.
It might be useful at this juncture to state precisely what it is that Salmond is being accused of. It would surely be useful to know the nature of the case in which these messages are purported to be damning evidence. But his accusers are strangely vague on this point. As far as one can tell, Salmond stands charged with the quaintly mediaeval-sounding offence of "cosying-up".
Only marginally less insubstantial are allegations relating to lobbying on behalf of a global media conglomerate. Not actually lobbying, you understand. But maybe thinking about perhaps doing something that might, with sufficient ill-will, be taken for lobbying.
And that is as close as we can get to specifying the charges being levelled against the First Minister. So, what of the "evidence"?
The signally unimpressive basis for this latest witch-hunt against Salmond amounts to no more than four emails. Not, let us be clear, emails that were sent from or even to Mr Salmond or his office. But they mention his name. And, for some, this alone is enough to condemn him. In fact, the messages are all internal communications sent by one of News Corp's PR people by the name of Fred Michel. The emails are dated late 2010 to early 2011 and refer, in part, to Murdoch's bid to take full control of BSkyB.
The first of these emails, in the relevant section, says,
Alex Salmond is very keen to also put these issues across to [Vince] Cable...
The phrase "these issues" refers to the "economic/investment" implications of the proposed deal in relation to the operations and areas which might be impacted by changes affecting the businesses involved. According to Salmond's accusers, we are supposed to take this as indicating that he was "keen" to put a favourable case to the UK government minister who at that time had responsibility for deciding whether the takeover could go ahead. But that's not what it tells us at all. In the first place, it is not Salmond saying he is "keen", it is a third party saying this about Salmond. A third party, moreover, who had a vested interest in persuading his bosses that he was doing a good job of making Salmond "keen".
And none of those getting in a lather about this has been able to explain what is wrong with the First Minister taking a personal interest in a matter that could potentially affect thousands of jobs in Scotland.
Much the same applies to the next mention of Alex Salmond which refers to his "desire to support us". The slavering mob has opted to forego reflective thought and treat this as an official statement of the First Minister's position. In reality, it is a second-hand report of a lunchtime chat with somebody totally unconnected with Alex Salmond. In a court of law this wouldn't even qualify as hearsay. But some choose to take it as gospel.
Another supposedly damning phrase appears in the penultimate email in this series.
He will call [Jeremy] Hunt whenever we need him to.
Another lunchtime conversation. And not with Salmond but with an adviser. We have only the word of Fred Michel that this was the form of words used. And even if it was, it is not Alex Salmond who used that form of words.
The very fact that Salmond was prepared to speak with the new UK culture secretary is declared to be proof of wrong-doing. More rational minds must inevitably be moved to ask what might be the nature of this wrong-doing. But no answer is forthcoming on this as on so many points. Making representations on a matter of considerable significance for Scotland's economy is entirely within the remit of the First Minister. In fact, he would have been derelict in his duty had he not been prepared to do so should the occasion arise. But, of course, the occasion did not arise. So Salmond is being condemned for something that not only was not in any way wrong, but which didn't even happen in any case.
The same email refers to Salmond's adviser talking about the possibility of Sky TV hosting a debate between Salmond and Iain Gray. This too is portrayed as an act of impropriety. Why? If there was to be such a televised debate then it would have to be discussed with all parties concerned. Not least the broadcaster(s). Sky was known to have an interest in this kind of event and the possibility was a matter of public discussion. Why would it be a taboo topic for one of Salmond's adviser's?
The section of the last of these emails which seems to have most exercised the Angry Villagers is the final paragraph.
On the Sky bid, he [Alex Salmond] will make himself available to support the debate if the consultation is launched.
At least this lunch actually involved Alex Salmond. But even if we take the report of his position at face value - which might not be such a good idea - what is being said? That Salmond will "support the debate". Not a particular position in the debate. Just the debate. Again we have to ask what wrong-doing is implied by this. How could it possibly be improper for the First Minister to do whatever he might to ensure that Scotland's interests were fully taken into consideration?
Welcome to the surreal world of the conspiracy theorist. a world where facts are levered in or ignored as best serves the theory being constructed. As with all conspiracy theories, this one works backwards from the prior conclusion making stuff fit as it goes in a continuously self-reinforcing loop of illogic and self-delusion. Absence of real evidence becomes "proof" of a cover-up. The unknown and merely imagined are co-opted to become "evidence" yet to be uncovered, but to be afforded weight nonetheless.
Contrary evidence and counter arguments are denounced as untruths and heresies. Guilt is presumed and perfectly plausible explanations portrayed as confessions. All rationality is abandoned in pursuit of the preferred version of reality. And the reasonable people are left shaking their fully functional heads in wonder and despair at the folly of it all.