If you follow social media, you’re probably aware that there’s considerable anger and dismay amongst independence supporters about The National’s decision to give publicity to the post-verdict statement from the anonymous women who were the complainants in the Alex Salmond case. I’ll be blunt, it’s an anger and dismay that I share. It was, to put it mildly, deeply misguided for the only pro-independence newspaper to further publicise what many in the independence movement perceived as an attempt to appeal to the court of public opinion after an actual court had thrown out all the allegations against a man who is hugely popular and influential amongst independence supporters. It sparked off a wave of anger and suspicion about the motives of the sole independence supporting newspaper within an independence movement which is already reeling from months, indeed years, of repeated assaults from the British nationalist media.
As we all know the complainants concerned are not merely the powerless and naive victims of a powerful man. We are not permitted to speculate upon their identity, but it is common knowledge that they are highly influential, powerful, and politically well connected in their own right. It is only natural that their letter, written behind a cloak of anonymity, would be seen as an attempt to pursue a political vendetta against Alex Salmond by other means. That’s precisely how it was viewed by many independence supporters on social media. Their anger is palpable, all the more so because they feel that they have been betrayed by the one newspaper that they felt that they could trust. We expect this sort of thing from the British nationalist press. We don’t expect it from our only pro-independence newspaper.
As you all know, I am a columnist for The National. I’ve seen comments online impugning my own integrity as though I somehow share responsibility for perpetuating accusations against Alex Salmond. I am not an employee of The National. I am a freelance writer. I have no control over the newspaper’s editorial policy. I do not generally write for the Sunday edition, which has a different editor from the daily edition. As is usual in newspapers, Sunday editions with an editor of their own have their own distinct editorial policy. I had no knowledge of what the paper was planning to publish on Sunday, but even if I had I do not have any ability which could have prevented it. It was a grave misstep, one which I sincerely hope will not be repeated. For a newspaper to misjudge its readership so badly is a serious error, and I had I known in advance I would have counselled against it.
Despite the fact that both The National and The Herald are owned by the same company, they are editorially independent and are run independently. The National is not subsidising The Herald or vice versa. Both newspapers are owned by Newsquest, an American multinational company which owns hundreds of newspapers in the English speaking world. This company has no opinion either for or against Scottish independence. Its owners genuinely don’t care one way or the other. All they are interested in is that the newspapers that they own are successful. Despite some of the frothier comments you may read online, there is no grand Yoon conspiracy to use The National as some trojan horse. The editors and staff of The National and its Sunday edition are as committed to the cause of Scottish independence as you or I. They believe passionately in it, so much so that they’re prepared to work for a newspaper that is regarded with disdain in the hidebound and cliquish world of the Scottish press.
In The National’s defence, the newspaper is currently being produced in the middle of a lockdown. Most of the staff are working from home. The paper was already being produced by a small team who are overstretched, but now that team is scattered and isolated and like the rest of us they are worried about their families, their friends, and the uncertain times we live in. This means that an editorial decision doesn’t get the proper feedback from within the team of journalists that it usually gets. There’s no one in the office to say, “This might not play well amongst our core readership.” The additional stress and difficulty of producing a paper under such trying circumstances makes mistakes more likely.
The simple fact of the matter is that if independence supporters don’t buy The National, we’ll have no pro-independence newspaper at all. The National is able to reach parts of the population that no indy blogger – least of all those who are leading the charge against the current incumbent in Bute House – is capable of reaching.
The only people who will benefit if The National loses readership are British nationalists. They are delighted by the self-destructive efforts of some people within the independence movement to attack other parts of the movement. The British nationalists deeply resent the very existence of The National, and nothing would please them more than to see it fail. Then they could go back to having the Scottish traditional media landscape entirely to themselves. It’s already difficult enough for pro-independence voices to be heard in the Scottish media. It doesn’t help the cause of independence to make it even harder. The National is the only outlet in the Scottish traditional media which promotes and publicises the grassroots movement and its initiatives. It’s the only newspaper that gives space to voices like mine who criticise the British nationalist media. So yes, I have a vested interest in the health of the paper, but I care even more passionately that pro-independence voices are given a breadth and reach that might otherwise be denied to us. The bottom line here is that our movement needs The National a hell of a lot more than Newsquest does.
The National is an imperfect media vehicle for independence, but it’s the only newspaper we’ve got. The SNP is an imperfect political vehicle for independence, but it’s also the only credible party we’ve got which is capable of winning enough seats to form a majority. And pro-independence bloggers – myself included – are the most imperfect vehicle of all. Yes, I understand your frustrations. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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