SNP and the Newspapers

The first lesson of journalism is that hacks don’t matter as much as they like to think. The second lesson is that if hacks don’t think they matter, they might as well go home. I’m caught between these rules.

Two weeks ago, we ran an op-ed berating the printed news media for choosing to peddle any old anti-nationalist copy, no matter the evidence of popular support for the SNP. Why, I asked, would papers with declining readerships choose to alienate so many potential customers? It was one of the most read articles ever on the site, and continues to attract comment (see here). One interested party was MediaGuardian, who asked if they could run a version of the piece, rewritten for the UK market.

The article was delivered to the Guardian, but held over for one week as the media supplement was covering the awful events of the mass shooting in America. It ran yesterday. See here.

In the course of that time, something astonishing happened in the editorial conferences of Scotland’s Sunday papers. With four days to go to the vote, The Sunday Times Scotland, Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald all offered support to the SNP, saying they deserved a vote at the coming election.

For the first time ever, broadsheet papers have endorsed the SNP. This is not only stunning in the context of recent political history, it’s gob-smacking in the context of the last few weeks. Any reader of Scotland on Sunday in particular would have needed second-sight to determine from
its aggressive coverage of independence and Alex Salmond that the paper would end up endorsing the party, even if it was in the limited form as suitable coalition partner for the Lib Dems.

In 1999, The Observer wrote a leader column endorsing the SNP. It sat on the then-editor Dean Nelson’s laptop ready to be sent, only for Nelson to have a change of heart. In the 2003 election, The Mirror considered backing independence, as distinct from endorsing the Nats, but they too backed off at the last minute. Back in the early 1990’s, The Sun won a distinct market position to its rival The Daily Record by backing independence, but switched allegiance when Blair looked like a shoe-in for the 1997 poll. Until two days ago, that was the sum total of inky support for Alex Salmond.

Nationalist insiders say they were aware of