In our opinion: The Sunday Times in Scotland

SHOCK. That is about the measure of it, after the news today that the Sunday Times Scotland is going to be whittled down to a skeleton operation, after around 20 years being one of the country’s best reads and home to some of the best editors and writers in the business.

Andrew Jaspan, Dean Nelson, Tony Alloway, Joan McAlpine, Mark Douglas-Home, Will Peakin, Terry Murden, etc, etc. Nothwithstanding the current incumbent, Carlos Alba. Some big names have been at the helm of this venerable institution and – in a flash – it’s to disappear.

Goodness only knows how husband-and-wife team, Allan Brown and Anna Burnside, are going to manage. Indeed, goodness only knows how many outlets still operating can absorb the writing talent that is being released.

If there’s a deal more emotion being expressed by this writer, on this occasion compared to savage cutbacks having been meted out at other titles, it is because of a former close connection.

Except the occasional staff Christmas party, a couple of days subbing and once, at about midnight, after a boxing match at Braehead, this writer’s relationship with the Sunday Times Scotland was all at the end of a telephone.

But it was often as frequent as half a dozen times a week, including during the term of a freelance contract, when the brilliant Tom English was sports editor. For many years, I wrote sport for the paper; for many years, I ghosted a column in the Home section.

It was at the end of a telephone that Tim Dawson, editor of the Home section, said how much he liked a piece about Ian Rankin; at the end of a telephone that Douglas Alexander in his long since past incarnation as a sports sub-editor, would promise to sprinkle ‘magic dust’ over an awkward-looking sentence in a football match report; at the end of a phone call that the aforementioned English chuckled at the opening line of a report following a British Amateur Golf Championship at Turnberry: From pub league to major league.

It was a great paper to be associated with. Great people. And it began when a sub-editor, by the name of Nick Clayton, suggested I might approach the editor of the newly-launched sports supplement with some ideas – given that the magazine I had been Scottish correspondent for was no longer in business. My first feature was about the snooker player, Alan McManus.

Not once, but twice, budget cuts were cited as reasons for my parting company with the paper, which are usually construed as meaning almost anything.

But budget cuts did result in freelancers being informed well over a year ago that their rates were being reduced by ten per cent. It was a standing joke the mileage expenses rate had not changed for a decade or more.

But Sunday Times Scotland was always one of the best payers in town.

How many good payers are there left? Assured outlets for the cream of Scottish journalism?

Personally, how ironic that it should be this week. When Craig Brewster scored the winning goal for Dundee United against Rangers in the 1994 Scottish Cup final, the Sunday Times Scotland team reporting comprised, not for the first time, Tom English, Dick Loudon and myself.

Dundee United are playing in the final of the Scottish Cup final this weekend. How will this year’s reporting team be feeling?