Sunday Herald 'Yes' move 'no surprise'

Sunday Herald Image copyright other

The Sunday Herald's decision to formally back independence comes as no surprise to anyone who has so much as glanced at the newspaper in recent months.

Its striking front pages have been consistently favourable to the "Yes" side of the argument, as have its star columnists, Ian Bell and Iain MacWhirter.

But for supporters of independence, the title's case for "the chance to alter course, to travel roads less taken, to define a destiny" will still be warmly welcomed.

The only other paper to have given much solace to campaigners for independence is, perhaps surprisingly, the voice of the City, the Financial Times whose "If Scotland Goes" series is being quoted, very selectively it must be said, on Yes Scotland campaign billboards.

Still, it would a mistake to get carried away.

Alasdair Gray's elegant thistle-and-Saltire design of today's news-making newspaper will surely fly off the shelves but the Sunday Herald's average weekly sale is around 24,000.

The Falkirk Herald, for comparison, sells nearly 20,000 copies.

The Sunday Herald's circulation is a mark of how far and fast the national broadsheets have fallen. As recently as the late 1990s Scotland on Sunday was selling 130,000 copies a week.

Brutal headline

The Sunday Herald's English-based owners, Newsquest, a subsidiary of the US firm Gannett, point out that far more people read their title online than buy a physical copy but even so, it does not appear to be reaching a mass market audience on the scale likely to swing an election.

However, there are newspapers which still just about retain that kind of reach, including one fabled as the title which turns the tide, even if that legend was largely written by its own staff.

"It's The Sun Wot Won It" boasted the front page of the tabloid on Saturday 11 April 1992, two days after putting a shining head of the Labour leader Neil Kinnock in a lightbulb with the memorable, if brutal, headline "If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights."

Kinnock, of course, lost the general election although later analysis suggested the Sun had not in fact "won it" at all and the "victorious" headline was eventually disowned at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards by the paper's owner Rupert Murdoch as "tasteless and wrong".

Even so, the Scottish Sun is now Scotland's most popular daily newspaper, selling about 260,000 copies, and its editorial stance on independence is still the subject of some fascination, deserved or not.

Conventional wisdom suggested that, having flirted with the idea of backing a "Yes" vote, the title, under the new editorship of Gordon Smart, had gone off the idea.

Not so, I am told by a source at the paper who insists that no decision has been made.

The Scottish Sun may yet back a vote for "Yes" says the source or it may take a neutral position, although as things stand it is highly unlikely to come out for "No".

Support not new

I am also told it is possible that Mr Murdoch, while not involved in the paper's day-to-day editorial matters, would have a role in any decision to back what his paper has previously called "plans to break up Britain".

Even then, such support wouldn't actually be new.

The tabloid backed Scottish independence, but not the SNP, in the 1992 general election as well as backing the SNP, but not independence, at the Holyrood poll of 2011.

It has also backed Labour and the Conservatives at various points as well as suggesting in 2007 that a vote for the SNP would "put Scotland's head in the noose."

The editorial position of its main rival, the Daily Record, has been strongly supportive of the Scottish Labour Party for many years and thus highly critical of independence. It sells about 220,000 copies a day.

In fact almost all of Scotland's national newspapers are hostile to independence, to the chagrin of First Minister Alex Salmond who has previously complained that BBC Scotland even reports the views of the press in its paper reviews.

Today the Scottish National Party has issued a news release drawing our attention to the "very welcome decision" to publish an "eloquent" pro-independence editorial.

When it comes to the press, the Sunday Herald is a rare friend for the "Yes" camp in a prickly field of foes.

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