Sunday Herald becomes first paper to declare yes to independence
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Sunday Herald has become the first, and potentially only, paper to declare itself in favour of independence, giving itself a significant lead in an industry which is either agnostic, undecided or openly hostile.
In a full page leader on page 3 under the title "the prize is a better country", the Sunday Herald said it "sincerely and emphatically" believes a yes vote will allow the country to take charge of its destiny, and to make mistakes, for better or worse.
The proposition is this: we believe independence will offer Scotland an historic opportunity to choose the kind of country that might allow its people to prosper. Decisions affecting our lives will be made on our doorstep by the people who live here. By us. A vote for independence says that a small country is not helpless in a big, troubling world.
The declaration will surprise few in Scottish politics or the media: the Sunday Herald has been the most openly sympathetic and supportive of any newspaper of the case for independence, and from a centre-left perspective, particularly since it relaunched as a tabloid.
Given the referendum on 18 September is still more than 19 weeks away, the question of this declaration's timing arises. That is not addressed in the leader. But the paper's bold and assertive yes vote on the front page, complete with a decorative border designed by the writer and artist Alasdair Gray, will very likely boost circulation for a paper struggling, like much of the industry, with falling sales.
Independence campaigners such as Twitter user @independent_SCO suggested pro-yes readers should tweet "selfies" posing with the Sunday Herald's poster front page "The Sunday Herald says yes". It was retweeted and favourited more than 100 times.
A Thank You Sunday Herald Facebook page saw more than 3,500 followers by Sunday afternoon; the Sunday Herald told its organisers they planned to collect the best for a montage in next weekend's edition.
Its current sales are close to 20,000, making it the lowest circulation of any of Scotland's indigenous Sunday papers, compared to around 30,000 for its nearest rival, Scotland on Sunday.
The last Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for the pair, reports All Media Scotland, put them at 23,907 and 32,616 respectively.
Predictably, this edition has been selling fast. Its news editor Neil MacKay tweeted to the paper's frustrated buyers searching for scarce copies that it was still available at the Asda in Newton Mearns:
In that sense, a clear declaration now is a clear and intelligent marketing move but with that sales level, its influence on the general Scottish electorate overall will likely be very low.
The editorial says the case for independence is a balanced one: it believes independence will help promote a "progressive, fair society" which is altruistic and compassionate. It will support entrepreneuriliasm and "rewards work".
But it states that much remains unknowable. While stating that a sterling currency union with the rest of the UK is probable and it is confident Scotland will be a member of the European union, and that Scotland can thrive, it warns:
We cannot be certain the pound will be retained, that existing terms will be easily forthcoming, that the price of oil will be higher tomorrow than it is today, that pensions will dwindle or increase in value, that businesses big and small will stay or go. We can never know the future.
But then declares the referendum is a choice between a bankrupt status quo and the chance to remake Scotland, effectively saying the prize outweighs the risks:
That seems to us 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.
Its stance reopens the question of whether any other newspaper will back independence. The Sunday Herald editorial bemoans the fact that the strong minority support for a yes vote is not reflected in the press:
We do not believe this to be healthy. Scotland's media should reflect the diversity of opinion within the country. [The] media should not speak with one voice.
This is arguably highly premature. Few Scottish dailies or other Sundays, if any, are likely to take a yes position until much closer to referendum day, largely because they will want to see the arguments and campaigns play out to their fullest extent.
Unless openly partisan for one party, they rarely do in elections. The Sunday Herald stance will, however, be watched closely by other editors to see firstly how it impacts on sales and secondly its wider reputation. In that sense, the paper has broken the mould.
Although the far greater sales and influence of London-owned titles in the market place since 1997, a key factor influencing the editorial approach of Scottish titles as a rule is their history and role as city and regional newspapers, which in turn influences a tradition of cautious political judgements so as not to partition off their readership.
Neither the Scotsman nor Herald editors are thought to have taken a final view. The Sunday Herald editorial said its support for independence should not be read across to its sister titles, the Herald daily or the Evening Times:
That is a decision for their editors to make. Nor does our decision reflect the position of our owners, the Herald and Times Group.
Tim Blott, managing director of the Herald and Times group, says:
'Our policy is to give individual editors the freedom to decide their own newspaper's position on this hugely important constitutional issue but our own official company stance will remain non-political and neutral in the independence debate.'
Unlike London-based press, which is structured around an appeal or allegiance to a particular demographic and political outlook (The Telegraph is Tory, while the Guardian is centre-left, so swings between Labour and the Lib Dems), Scotland's "national" press are closer to the US model where city-based titles were traditionally defined by their geographical allegiance.
The Record and Sunday Mail, owned by Trinity Mirror, break that rule: the working assumption is that as traditional Labour-supporting papers they will back a no vote, if heavily qualified.
Of the tabloids, the Sun is the only UK paper which might back independence – Rupert Murdoch, its owner, is still an open admirer of Salmond's. Yet its recent coverage of the referendum and the Scottish government suggests greater cynicism and scepticism than its vocal support for Salmond and the Scottish National party in the 2011 Holyrood election.
The Sun's coverage of Salmond's controversial remarks on Russian president Vladimir Putin, where Salmond's face was superimposed over Putin's infamous heroic photographic stunts, such as riding a horse bare-chested, implies it sees the first minister as a ready target not an ally. Its UK edition coverage has been openly hostile.
The other London-based papers, traditionally more closely tied to political allegiances or perspectives, are likely to be sceptical or hostile about independence. The Guardian, recently critical in its leaders of the Scottish government's case, has not yet decided, nor has the Observer, its Sunday sister paper.
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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