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Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

On Wednesday afternoon, I hosted the first of Alex Salmond’s weekly phone-ins on my LBC Drivetime show.

Whenever you do something new on the radio there’s always a slight nervousness that it might not work and go terribly wrong. Let’s put it this way: some politicians are more natural broadcasters than others. We’ve done a lot of political phone-ins over the last two or three years, some working better than others.

When it was first suggested that we should do one with Salmond, I was as confident as I could be that he would be a natural, and so it proved to be. He had, however, made a hostage to fortune by promising to give straight answers and shoot from the hip. The first caller, Paul in St Albans, really put Salmond on the spot by pointing out that the fall in the oil price would have left a giant £9 billion hole in the SNP’s first budget, and he quite naturally asked how he would have filled it [See the video clip above.]

He wriggled, and he wriggled again – so I was forced to point out that he had promised to give a straight answer, and so far he hadn’t. Later on I asked him if he thought a commitment to a second referendum should be included in the SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next May. “It’s a question for Nicola Sturgeon,” he said. “No, I’m asking for your opinion,” I responded. But answer came there none.

So straight talking – unless it concerns independence or the possibility of disagreeing with the SNP party line. But this is where phone-ins really provide something different to normal political interviews, because callers operate by different rules to interviewers. They can put a politician on the spot in the way that interviewers often can’t.

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I am very troubled by the Durham university rape case in which a student was this week acquitted of raping a girl. I’m not going to name him here because it’s bad enough that his name is still being plastered across the papers even though he has been cleared.

This is the latest in a line of similar cases where a woman has made an allegation which a jury has taken very little time to decide was spurious or malicious. The woman’s name still remains secret, yet the man involved will forever be associated with being accused of rape. Google his name in ten years’ time and that’s the first thing that will come up.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t have the answer to this. The police and the CPS have a duty to investigate any allegation of rape, but in this case and others you do wonder why it even brought the case. The biggest issue here is that cases such as this make it even more difficult for people who genuinely have been raped to think that they will be treated sympathetically and fairly. The woman involved in the Durham case should hang her head in shame.

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So Boris Johnson has apparently ruled himself out of leading the Leave campaign during the EU Referendum. He didn’t do it quite as bluntly, but he has reportedly described himself as “not an outer”. I doubt whether he was talking about his belly button.

I also can’t really see Theresa May leading the campaign. No one has so far been able to find any particularly Eurosceptic comments from her in her 18 years in parliament. So who could lead it because, as Isabel Oakeshott writes on this site today, it needs someone who is popular with the public (and not frothing at the mouth)?

What it doesn’t need is a campaign full of spokespeople who might have looked at home at a John Redwood leadership campaign launch. (For younger readers, look it up on Google.) The Remain campaign will have David Cameron, Alan Johnson and many other people who look and sound perfectly reasonable and are good on the media.

While Nigel Farage must play a very prominent role in the Leave campaign, he cannot do it on his own. He’s the man to mop up the core Eurosceptic vote, but his appeal isn’t necessarily going to hit home with all the people the Leave campaign will need to embrace if it is to win.

But then again, if the two different Leave campaigns can’t unite, then I’m afraid their cause may well fall at the first hurdle. That’s partly why the Prime Minister wants an early referendum. I should say that I haven’t made up my mind as to how I would vote. My heart says leave but my head still needs some convincing. The question is: who best to persuade me?

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It was rather heartening that David Mundell’s ‘coming out’ was greeted with a giant ‘meh’. OK, there was quite a bit of newspaper coverage – mainly because he’s the first gay Conservative Cabinet Minister [Nick Herbert only ‘attended’ Cabinet].

We’ll know when things have really changed when a) a politician doesn’t feel the need to make a public statement and b) when newspapers don’t comment on it. I suspect that day is still a fair way off. I read somewhere the other day that the Commons has the highest per centage of “out” gay MPs of any legislature in the world. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from that other than this country’s more liberal approach to these things is allowing politicians to be themselves. There are other sectors of our society which could learn a lot from the tolerance displayed in the political world.

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I’ve just re-read what I’ve written today. I think I must have had a sense of humour bypass this week. I promise that next week the usual diet of sniggering and smut will be back.

73 comments for: Iain Dale: How slippery Salmond drowned in oil

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