Alex Massie

Why will no-one support independence?

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Commenter Rab O'Ruglen  doesn't have much sympathy for the crisis afflicting the Tartan press:

While I have every sympathy for those who find themselves in employment difficulties through no fault of their own I cannot say I have any sympathy for the Scottish print medium whatsoever.  If you are looking for an example of a people less well served by its press than Scotland's, you have to go to totalitarian states to find it.

It is incredible that when the Independence movement has reached the stage of forming a government, all-be-it a minority one, that every single one of Scotland's public prints is pro-Union.  Sometimes vitriolically so.  These instruments in the main for the propagation of right-wing propaganda and the Union, supposedly in support of free market forces, seem remarkably resistant to the idea that they might not be able to make a profit indefinitely out of forcing on their readers a point of view with which they do not concur.

I know that this is a point much-cherished by many SNP supporters, who chafe at what they perceive to be the press's bias against the party. But it can only be a keenly pertinent point if it is, like, true.

First, there is not, at present, and, a couple of rogue polls aside, ever been a majority in favour of independence. If one assumes that, roughly speaking, at any given time somewhere between 25 and 40% of voters actually truly support independence, any newspaper that endorses the idea risks alienating the majority of its readers. Now if you could guarantee that all SNP voters would flock to buy a pro-independence paper then you might have a commercial argument for endorsing the idea. But you can't make any such guarantee. Are SNP voters in Glasgow going to purchase the Scotsman if the Edinburgh paper supports independence? This seems pretty unlikely.

Furthermore, it's worth recalling that the press is vastly less hostile towards the SNP than it used to be. The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald all endorsed the nationalists at the last Holyrood election. Granted, that had a good deal to do with the failures and tedium of the Lbour-Lib Dem coalition and granted, too, that these were not endorsements of independence at all. But still.

Finally, the idea that the Scottish press exists "for the propagation of right-wing propaganda" is entirely laughable, given that there isn't a single conservative paper in the country. No, not even the Scotsman. And SoS has certainly moved towards the left since the days when I wrote editorials for the paper.

And a last point: if no newspaper supports independence, that's as much a reflection of the SNP's failure to make an entirely persuasive argument as it is of any proprietorial hostility towards the party and its Big Idea.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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