The Scottish independence debate goes colourful…






The Herald on Sunday is the first Scottish newspaper to come out clearly in favour of independence.

The front page designed by the artist Alasdair Gray makes quite a splash and the editorial arguments are balanced and reasonable.

(The case for independence) seems to us to be a more exciting, imaginative and inspiring proposition than the alternative proposed by the No campaign. That it has been remorselessly negative need not detain us here. Its leaders have told us constantly what we can’t do, aren’t able to do, must avoid doing at all costs. Scotland removed from the Union, they insist, will be a poorer, parochial, rather pathetic place, with no voice in the corridors of power.

These tactics have given the media much fat on which to chew. While polls have consistently shown there to be strong support for independence – albeit not enough yet for a majority – this has not been reflected in the press. Some newspapers are against independence, others merely unsympathetic to the notion. We do not believe this to be healthy. Scotland’s media should reflect the diversity of opinion within the country. We believe that in a real democracy the public should have access to a wide range of views and opinions. The media should not speak with one voice.

Diversity of opinion is reflected within the Sunday Herald’s staff. Some of our team support independence, some do not, and others are still considering the arguments. Some are unconvinced by the merits of supporting a Yes vote. Far from regarding this as a weakness, we welcome it. The Sunday Herald has always been a broad church. We consider the fact a strength which we will always protect.

The paper seem to have committed itself to Independence as much  to counter the near monopoly of newspaper opinion in favour of the Union as to support Independence on its merits. As the polls narrow, This is a shrewd move – maybe even a desperate one –  in a crowded broadsheet market of two, with circulations falling.

Among the bigger fallers was The Herald, down by 10% to average sales below 39,000 between July and December 2013. the Sunday Herald, was down 7% to below 24,000,..However the Herald and Times publisher, US-owned Newsquest, highlighted a 66% growth in monthly online readers of The Herald news website, to reach nearly 1.6m by December. a year.

The Scotsman’s circulation in the second half of the year fell below 30,000. A large share of these were on discounted subscriptions, which the Scotsman’s management has been working hard to build up.

Its weekly sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, was on 33,000, before it was cut in size last month. That was 12% down on the first half of the year, while the Edinburgh Evening News was down 14% to reach 28,000. Meanwhile, The Scotsman’s well-known brand and free online access helped it secure 2.6m unique monthly users using by December.

As papers love going with the zeitgeist, how will the Scottish red tops react? We can be certain that the Mail stable won’t follow. In the second of my series of provocative pieces on Scottish independence, the Scottish novelist Allan Massie goes to work on his imaginings in the Mail on Sunday. After a knife edge result in favour of  independence…

The Scottish MPs will continue to sit in Westminster until then, but won’t be permitted to vote on matters affecting England Wales and Northern Ireland, the West Lothian question and all that. Business as usual for the United Kingdom…’

An aide interrupts with news that rioting has broken out in Belfast – the Republicans wanting a united Ireland. ‘Speak to the Northern Ireland Secretary,’ the PM says wearily, for a moment forgetting her name.

March 2016.

NOT many bells are rung in Scotland when the Day of Independence finally arrives. Orkney and Shetland negotiate a UK status similar to the Isle of Man, booming on oil and the new offshore financial services.

The Ulster Troubles rumble on and nobody thinks about Wales. In Scotland, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart cry of ‘Freedom’ sounds painfully ironic as cuts that would make Lady Thatcher wince begin to bite.

A view gathers strength on both sides of the border that those who had argued that England and Scotland were ‘better together’ had been right all along.

In both countries many hope for a generation of politicians with the vision to make the case for a new Treaty of Union. How long both nations will have to wait is, sadly, anyone’s guess

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London