Media in Scotland

Scotland has its own distinctive media. In terms of newspapers, the Scottish Sun and the Daily Record dominate the tabloid or popular press, whilst the Scotsman and Herald are the two biggest selling national broadsheets. Although newspaper sales are significantly down in recent years online readership of newspapers has increased.

Scottish newspapers, like elsewhere in the UK, are legally allowed to report the news as they wish. Traditionally, most Scottish newspapers have been more left-wing in their political outlook. The Daily Record, for example, has for many years backed the Labour Party.

There is debate as to the extent to which newspapers influence the political agenda. If a newspaper catches the 'prevailing political mood' then they can amplify public opinion to a level where politicians must respond or at least be seen to respond. For example, the Daily Record's long-running campaign to pressurise the Scottish government to take action to limit the threat from 'dangerous dogs', has pushed this issue up the political agenda. In 2014 there was a government-led 'summit on dangerous dogs' with the later possibility of legislation making micro-chipping for dogs compulsory.

The media and the Scottish independence referendum

The Scottish independence referendum provides a good example of the way in which the media, especially new/social media, is used by those in politics to try and get their message across. For example, both sides in the referendum campaign ('Yes Scotland' and 'Better Together') invested heavily in websites and there was unprecedented use of social media (Facebook and Twitter), particularly as independence activists relentlessly sought to win over undecided voters.

Television and radio

Television and radio also played a major part in engaging voters. As well as regular news bulletins leading on the referendum, there were many special news programmes with interviews with representatives from both sides as well as academics and political analysts.

Two special referendum TV debates were held in advance of the vote of 18 September 2014. These were watched by many hundreds of thousands of Scottish voters some of who were undecided.

Alistair Darling (representing 'Better Together') was judged to have outperformed First Minister Alex Salmond (representing 'Yes Scotland') in the first debate. However, Alex Salmond was deemed to have won the second debate. Opinion polls after the second TV debate showed an increase in support for the 'Yes' campaign.

Newspapers

As the biggest political issue within Scotland, the Scottish newspaper industry gave the arguments for and against independence and their respective campaigns blanket news coverage. It could be argued that most newspapers, whether broadsheets or populars (tabloids), took a broadly neutral stance on the referendum urging voters to think carefully but most importantly, to use their vote.

This balanced approach to the referendum coverage was probably taken for commercial reasons, ie a desire not to lose readers, than any firm belief that newspapers should report politics in a fair and balanced way. Only one paper in Scotland actively supported independence: the Sunday Herald.

In the post-referendum analysis, most commentators would agree that through the various forms of the media, the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns engaged the public in numbers that had never been witnessed before in Scotland and are rarely seen anywhere in the world. There were hundreds of campaign events, tens of thousands of activists on the streets and a record-breaking 85% voters turning out to cast their vote.