Scotland independence vote: Murdoch back among ‘great Scottish people’ as tongues wag
Mogul makes dramatic visit – amid more talk that ‘The Sun’ will support Yes vote – and strengthens his bond with Salmond
Sunday 14 September 2014
The dramatic arrival of Rupert Murdoch in Scotland yesterday showed that the magnate has lost none of his love for backing winners. It seems the octogenarian wants to take the pulse of the land of his forefathers for himself before the Scottish edition of his flagship newspaper, The Sun, advises its readers how to vote in Thursday’s independence referendum.
First Minister Alex Salmond’s aides say they had no idea Murdoch, whose grandfather was a Presbyterian minister from Aberdeenshire, was coming, but his increasingly feverish tweeting recently suggests an enduring enthusiasm for Salmond and disdain for Westminster.
The visit seems likely to amplify voices, circulating high in the Murdoch ranks, which claim that he is still toying with moving the domicile of his newspaper company News Corp from the United States to an independent Scotland.
Mr Murdoch could be attracted by a low rate of corporation tax – up to 3 per cent lower than the rump of the United Kingdom. The Westminster Government plans to cut its corporation tax rate from the current 20 per cent, but Mr Salmond, like Ireland, could go lower still.
“If Murdoch could convince shareholders that moving to Scotland will make their shares go up, they will be fine with it,” claimed one source. Such a move would be a coup for Mr Salmond, as leading firms last week warned they could move operations to London.
City experts said it would be relatively straightforward for News Corp to move its domicile, which is in the American state of Delaware, outside the US while continuing to keep its shares listed on the stock exchange in New York. Mr Murdoch and his family control about 40 per cent of the voting shares in News Corp. Many of those assets are not susceptible to being uprooted, and the company has just signed a 30-year lease on space in The News Building in London.
But the rumours emanate from those immersed in economic realities rather than mischief-making. Several City insiders said they had not heard of any plan by News Corp to move its domicile but it was plausible. One person who has worked with Mr Murdoch said: “There are some things that would surprise me. This wouldn’t.”
A London banker said: “I would put the odds at 50:50. The family did go from Scotland to Australia, so he would get to go full circle.”
News Corp said: “We don’t comment on rumours and speculation.” But a person close to the company said there are no plans.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said he has not talked with Mr Murdoch, or his executives, about moving his business interests to an independent Scotland.
“Where businesses are located is a matter for them, but of course we have plans to make an independent Scotland competitive vis-à-vis the rest of the UK,” said a spokesman for the First Minister. BSkyB said this weekend that it will not move to Scotland. Mr Murdoch’s film and TV business, 21st Century Fox, has a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB. It is thought Mr Murdoch would not consider moving Fox’s domicile outside America because of its US broadcasting licences.
Claire Enders, who heads Enders Analysis in London, was doubtful about a move.
“I’m not privy to their thinking but it is really unlikely,” she said. “It’s probably Rupert has made a mischievous comment in passing that shouldn’t be taken seriously.” Ms Enders warned it was “far too early” for such talk, as it would take years to set up legal, political and taxation systems. Mr Murdoch doesn’t know what Mr Salmond is offering, and vice versa.
One source said senior figures around Mr Murdoch were “wavering” about his plan for the Scottish Sun to endorse independence. “There is lot of doubt in that camp about the competency of Salmond’s team in business matters. Regardless of heart, the head would rule for Rupert.”