The National 'will tackle democratic deficit'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionJamie McIver reports on the launch of The National

The editor of Scotland's new pro-independence newspaper has said its publication will help tackle a "democratic deficit" in Scottish society.

Richard Walker hopes The National will attract widespread support from people who voted "Yes" in the referendum.

He said: "I think 1.6m people voted Yes and it's strange that no national daily newspaper gives voice to those people."

The newspaper will run for an initial five-day trial period.

In an editorial column, the newspaper paper said it was not "a mouthpiece of the Scottish National Party and the government it leads"

'Democratic deficit'

It added: "That would not be a healthy course to follow. We will be critical where appropriate and complimentary when merited.

"During the referendum campaign it became clear that there is a democratic deficit in terms of the Scottish media.

"In a population of some five million, with 45% of those eligible voting Yes, only one newspaper - our sister paper, the Sunday Herald - spoke out in favour of independence. That seems to us unfair.

"The raison d'etre of the National is to redress the balance and cogently to argue the case for independence."

Mr Walker, who also edits The Sunday Herald, told BBC Scotland he had been "taken aback in a good way" by support for that paper after it came out in favour of independence in May.

He said: "It's been fantastic and that support grew as the referendum campaign went on.

"The week before the vote we were about 60% up year-on-year in terms of circulation.

Image copyright Christian Cooksey/
Image caption Richard Walker will edit The National as well as the Sunday Herald

"The week after the vote, when I thought circulation would have been down, we were 111% up and our circulation figures are very much ahead of where we were last year.

"We didn't do it to increase circulation. It was a bit of a gamble, we didn't know how our readers would react to it, but they did react to it very well and that has given us a lot of heart."

Mr Walker described the new paper, which costs 50p, as a tabloid "but not a tabloid like the Daily Record".

He said it would be easy to read and "quite approachable".

The editor said: "We also do a lot of international affairs - four pages of that - it's something the Sunday Herald has been known for and we're very proud of that.

"We are adopting the same position in The National in that we are not a parochial newspaper."

Mr Walker said he was confident there would be enough support for the new paper to ensure it continues to be published beyond its initial trial period.

He said: "I'm sure that our sales figures will justify us continuing and I'm sure on Friday we'll be saying, 'see you on Monday'."

Analysis, Jamie McIvor BBC Scotland correspondent

Many - both in the media and the nationalist movement - have always spotted an obvious market niche for a serious newspaper which supports the concept of independence.

The Sunday Herald - the only established newspaper to support independence - saw its sales rise when it "came out" for a Yes vote and received a huge boost the weekend after the referendum.

Audited sales for the second half of this year will not be published until February so it is still impossible to say whether its political stance has boosted its underlying sales significantly.

BBC Scotland understands that the Sunday Herald is now selling some 10,000 copies a week more than it did at this time last year and has overtaken Scotland on Sunday as the second most popular quality newspaper on Sundays.

However its sales are still lower than they were four years ago before it relaunched as a news magazine. Official sales figures are due in February.

Image copyright Newsquest

The National has attracted attention because of its pedigree. It is owned by Newsquest - publishers of The Herald and Sunday Herald - and edited by the latter's respected editor Richard Walker. For that reason alone it is being taken seriously by people in politics and the media in a way that a start-up or a publication by a maverick might not be.

Although it is only being published as a five-day pilot, the company clearly hopes it will establish that a market exists to justify making publication permanent.

It is being stocked by the major news chain WH Smith but it is reportedly not on sale at some major supermarkets. Potential readers can also purchase a subscription online.

The editorial challenge The National faces is to be seen as a credible newspaper which happens to support independence - and not a propaganda organ, a cynical business exercise or the old media equivalent of some pro-independence websites.

The first issue - 32 tabloid pages - is far smaller than any established newspaper but at 50p it costs less than any other seriously-minded title. The first issue contains little advertising.

'Statement of intent'

The content is not exclusively about independence - there is sport, business and other news - but stories related to independence, Scottish politics and issues which featured in the referendum campaign characterise the news pages.

The front page headline "Give Scotland The Powers To Cut Child Poverty" could be read as a statement of intent by the paper.

The welcoming editorial acknowledges that "doomsayers have been saying for decades that newspapers are in steep decline" and that "if they were to be believed the last newspaper would have been published decades ago".

True - but since the millennium the decline of the print market, not just in Scotland but across the developed world, has intensified and it is hard to spot a plateau.

The Daily Record - which barely 20 years ago sold 750,000 copies a day - looks set to see its circulation drop below 200,000 within months. Across the UK, The Sun's sales recently fell below two million a day for the first time since the early 1970s.

At the quality end of the market, The Herald sells roughly a third of the number of copies it did 20 years ago.

While some may say they have stopped buying a newspaper because of its politics or stance on independence, there are clearly far wider factors at work in the long-term decline of the market.

If The National becomes permanent, can it become a significant contributor to wider public life? Or will it simply serve a niche audience and be ignored by everyone else?

Related Topics

More on this story