Leader: Alex Salmond is shameless in courting the Murdochs

The Scottish First Minister has shown contempt for democracy and transparency.

Even as new allegations of criminal activity are levelled at employees of News International - and James Murdoch distances himself from the troubled newspaper operation - politicians continue to rush to its defence. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who once described the phone-hacking scandal as "a politically motivated put-up job", has called for "the caravan to move on". The Education Secretary, Michael Gove - often described as Rupert Murdoch's representative in the cabinet - has absurdly accused the Leveson inquiry of having a "chilling" effect on free speech.

For Mr Murdoch, such apologetics could not be more convenient. His rapid-fire decision to launch the Sun on Sunday just two weeks after the arrest of five Sun journalists was intended to send one message to his shareholders and the public: for him, at least, it is business as usual. Reported sales of 3.26 million, the highest for any Sunday paper since 2007, added to the mood of triumphalism at Wapping, even if the marketing for the launch edition was substantial.

In her testimony to the Leveson inquiry, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, the officer in charge of the current police investigations, spoke of how the Sun had allegedly established a "network of corrupted officials" and created a "culture of illegal payments". This was not about the "odd drink or meal". One public official apparently received £80,000. Finally, and most damningly, she claimed that most of the stories that resulted from the payments were "salacious gossip" rather than anything in "the public interest".

With his usual defiance, Mr Murdoch insisted: "We have already emerged a stronger company." And for the moment, at least, News Corporation is in rude health. Swelled by income from its cable television networks and its film studios, it recently announced quarterly profits of $1.06bn. But with every new allegation, the possibility of legal action in the US - Mr Murdoch's greatest fear - increases. A prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans US-based companies from profiting from bribery in other countries, could cost News Corp hundreds of millions of pounds.

For now, Mr Murdoch retains his ability to mesmerise politicians of left and right alike. The latest willing supplicant is the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, who exclusively revealed to the Scottish Sun on Sunday his intention to hold an independence referendum on 18 October 2014. In the middle of the SNP's public consultation on the ballot, Mr Salmond, a self-described social democrat and pro-European, elected to tip-off an Australian-American newspaper proprietor before Scotland's five million voters. He has shown contempt for democracy and transparency and is shamelessly courting Murdoch just as Westminster MPs have done before him.

Since taking office, Mr Salmond has met the News Corp head or his executives 25 times and praised him in one letter as "insightful and stimulating". In return, the Scottish Sun endorsed the SNP at the last election and Mr Murdoch hailed Mr Salmond as a "fellow anti-establishmentarian" on Twitter. But the First Minister should be under no illusions: Murdoch is an opportunist who supports whichever party is capable of winning elections, Conservative, Labour or the SNP (though never the Liberal Democrats, of course).

Bankers, politicians, the police and now the press - all have successively lost public confidence. The closing down of the Occupy camp at St Paul's in London on the day it was revealed that Barclays had attempted to avoid £500m in tax is symbolic of all that has gone wrong in British society in recent years. As long as our elected representatives continue to pay fealty to the old ways and the old order, there is little prospect of any improvement.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The last Tsar