The changing face of Scottish politics is reflected in the launch of the country's first pro-independence titleby Gerry Hassan / November 26, 2014 / Leave a comment
The new Scottish newspaper The National has already been a success on two levels: first, it has had impact and been a story itself, and second, in terms of sales, selling out its 60,000 print run on the first day.
Launched as a five-day pilot from Monday this week, it looks almost certain to continue for the immediate future. The brainchild of its editor, Richard Walker; he is also the editor of the pro-independence Sunday Herald, both of which are owned by Newsquest.
The National’s primary rational is the independence cause. On 18th September Scotland went to the polls and only one of the daily and Sunday newspapers supported independence: the Sunday Herald which saw a 111 per cent increase in its sales year-on-year.
The feel of The National is like a cross between The Independent, Sunday Herald and Metro. It is bright, brash and distinct; and while it hasn’t broken any major news stories yet it has provided a space for some of the emerging and well-kent faces of the independence referendum such as the journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens. I did hear in my local newsagent this morning, one reader ask for it as “The Independent,” while for differing reasons even ex-Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie has wished the venture well (being pro-Scottish independence as he judges it good for England).
Just under half of Scotland voted for independence representing 45 per cent of the country and 1.6m voters. Subsequently, the unprecedented engagement of the campaign has been looking for ways to express itself. One manifestation has been the eruption of SNP membership from 25,000 to over 92,000 in just over two months; the pro-independence Greens have seen an equally impressive three fold increase in their members over the same period.
Some dismiss the whole enterprise as proof of the SNP’s power-hungry instincts. Former Labour MP and MSP George Foulkes dismisses it as “McPravda.” One common criticism has been the equation of a pro-independence stance with being pro-SNP, when there is a difference between the two which can only grow larger with time, pro-unionist newspapers north of the border criticise the actions of Westminster parties, the UK coalition, and even occasionally, the Labour Party
The National, if it is to succeed, has to provide more than just sympathetic coverage of the independence cause. It has to provide a different angle on news, break stories which the other papers haven’t touched, and develop a distinct space and ethos.
It is too early to tell if it can do this. But there is a gap and significant goodwill from a large part of Scotland. The National is a decent looking paper, produced on a tiny budget with only eight staff which has found a readership, particularly in the Yes heartlands of Glasgow and the West of Scotland. Its online subscriber numbers were up to an impressive 10,000 after the first two days.
This is the ideal moment to launch such an ambitious enterprise. Scotland is on the move. Its politics are in febrile mood. Its mainstream media—in print, TV and radio—had a nervous to poor referendum—unable to capture the excitement and upsurge of democratic engagement which characterised the grass roots side of the Yes campaign.
That feeling remains in a sizeable part of Scotland at the moment. Post-referendum this mood and culture of change and energy isn’t going anywhere soon, what with the forthcoming 2015 General Election and 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
The challenge of The National will be to tap into this energy while showcasing a different media face and side of Scotland which is more than speaking to the most motivated of the Yes camp. As well as that it has to tell stories, profile people and issues beyond the obvious, and feed the insatiable hunger for sport and football in a way which isn’t just predictable, stale churnalism. All of this is of course the opportunity Rupert Murdoch ducked in the referendum, dithering and waiting for the opinion polls to turn to Yes, which has left others post-vote to mine this terrain.
If it can do the above and do so with a difference, style, and a bit of daring then The National could do more than make the impact it undoubtedly already has, and become a regular and influential voice in Scotland’s media landscape.