The Newspapers Scotland Needs


Yes but no, but yes, but, is that the time already?

We don’t have many journalists in the Scottish press. We have a lot of reporters. A good journalist offers insight and the benefit of his experience travelling the world. A reporter tells us this or that happened, and uses press hand-outs as a crutch for their own copy. To be ‘impartial’ for a minute, [satire] reporting can rise to the level of fine writing – I cite as evidence Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, a superb work of reportage – but that’s in a wholly different category from what is offered by the Scottish press.

It’s my football and I’ll kick it where I want

These last days has seen an extraordinary outburst from Neil Mackay, quick tempered editor of the Sunday Herald. He castigating his readers for daring to express opinions in robust ways. Like other Scottish newspapers sales are falling even as its website is flourishing. Fearful of oblivion the Sunday Herald has taken to eating itself.

When it comes to choosing one’s words carefully Mackay fails miserably to follow his own advice. He wants dissidence curbed. What he’s asking is uncomplicated: no right-minded person would express themselves in vigorous terms that offend newspaper staff.

This is the first step towards ‘normalising’ what can and what cannot be discussed. It is neo-liberalism balls high. First, deplore open speech you cannot control; second, confine the parameters within which a debate can be conducted; and lastly, proclaim free speech safe … if expressed within strict guidelines laid down by our betters

Hello, goodbye

When Mackay arrived at the paper I sent a brief good luck message. Tweets were shorter then but I added the paper was vague in its support of Scotland’s rights. He disliked that remark enough to send a sharp reply. I answered I was referring to the content of the paper still adhering to neo-liberal dogma either consciously or by habit.

Mackay sprung back. He had “written a book on the subject” and I should go to hell, whereupon he blocked me. I hear he despises Twitter and social sites, his hobby-horse, so I have to assume he’s not read any of my essays on liberty and civil rights, ergo, he owns a closed mind, and a lot of vanity. Criticism cannot include attacks on the integrity of the Sunday Herald or its staff because …. all together now … ‘no right-minded person’ would ever do that. And so it goes on, circular fashion, ad nauseam.

The White Rabbit

Mackay is aided in his search for a peaceful life by Alice in Wonderland Rabbit, Chief Reporter (of what is a mystery) David Leask. By all accounts he’s an affable fellow, inclined so I’m told, to believe there’s something worthwhile in all this independence nonsense. Leask spends a lot of time attacking the editor of Wings website, using incautious terms such as “Putin propaganda.”

When the Herald assumed UK-wide statistics on poverty and wealth related only to Scotland, thus grossly exaggerating our situation, Leask didn’t apologise but instead condemned bloggers for the effrontery in trying to correct the massive error. Now he has before him another apology to publish, better known as a ‘correction’.


Two conclusions: staff are over-stretched or deliberately malicious

How many crass decisions constitute dismissal?

After the newspaper placed a highly misleading photograph on its front page of the triumphant independence March in Glasgow it received a torrent of complaints from people who feel political activism is a good thing.

In a long sanctimonious article bereft of apology Mackay agreed the photograph was not representative of the day’s event. The choice of it was a group decision. That he could have dealt with the small band of Nazi saluting unionists in a separate article and not taint the march seemed not to have entered his head. He trotted off the expected excuse of seeking balance as if all he could publish was one photograph. For a man who has “written a book on neo-liberalism” he’s blind to its existence in his newspaper.

Mackay avers we should stop thinking there are conspiracies indulged by our media. Which is to say, we must realise what we see is gross incompetence.

In a series of shrieking paragraphs Mackay moved onto his main theme, attacks on newspapers are “hatred” incarnate “and dangerous”. He called the SNP to account. (He did not call the Tory Party to corral its extremists.) The march had nothing to do with the SNP other than the Party and Nicola Sturgeon were happy to see the confederacy of unity as active as ever. The march was peaceful and joyful. Mackay chose to sour the success of the march.

The Apologist versus the Abolitionist.

Media’s habit of living off newspapers saw STV’s evening political show Scotland Tonight host a short debate. Simon Pia and Peter Bell were asked a few interesting questions on whether or not the Sunday Herald was right or wrong in its tirade.

Pia was a No voter, a former Labour Party Scottish branch media man, who had a vision on the Road to Damascus and now votes Yes. Bell is a long-time independinista, a consummate composer of fire and brimstone. A Twitter user commented how refreshing it was to see two supporters of independence in a discussion without interruption from a unionist. In one way it was, in another the same old gladiatorial formula.

Pia was invited to argue newspapers ought to be given greater respect than now. He decided he would take the place of the unionist and interrupt Bell. Both men looked uncomfortable. Pia squirmed around in his chair. Bell, a writer I greatly admire, sat like Sphinx-like, immovable, implacable. The discussion demanded better group dynamics; a round table would have helped and at least an hour to discuss such an important issue.

What newspapers does Scotland need?

The question is not how good or stupid is the Sunday Herald and its editor. The question is, what sort of newspapers does Scotland need at a critical time in its history? The answer is independent newspapers.

Owned by unionist press barons with offshore bank accounts our newspapers will never devote themselves wholeheartedly to the cause of demanding full civil and constitutional rights protected by self-governance. As far as they are concerned and those they employ, we live in a capitalist democracy, the best possible system, despite “some flaws”.

“The behaviour of a minority is damaging the hopes of independence” says Mackay in a lather of exaggeration, describing the masses as “the mob”. What a sad sight is a newspaper editor haranguing his readers for daring to have an opinion and actually voicing it. What right do they have, he fulminates, to be angry over our bias, inaccuracies, colonial mentality, and egregious attacks on hope?

When newspapers fail us, they fail the internet, we who use social media each day. Well, the press and media are indispensable. We should look at them critically, read between the lines, and not always take what they print as Gospel. But I am talking about free and independent media not corporate media!

A kinda belief

You either believe in independence or you do not. You can’t say, well, the electorate are not as one therefore we shall keep our options open. You have to sell self-governance, make obvious its benefits, educate, inform. You cannot be passive about a nation’s rights. You cannot be ‘impartial’.

So far, our press and media are failing on their own terms, deluding themselves social media is to blame for their troubles. Newspapers such as the racist Scottish Daily Mail and the duplicitous Scottish Express are a serious danger to Scotland’s progress, a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, scornful of facts, dismissive of anything remotely like socialism or people power.

Where does the Sunday Herald stand? Neil Mackay its fulminating editor states it plainly:

“Let us make one thing very clear – the Sunday Herald endorses no political party. … This paper is not a closed shop. Unionist voters, Conservative voters, Labour voters, would not be blamed for feeling that the Sunday Herald appeared for a time after the referendum to be something of a closed shop; that there was no home for them here. We wish that perception to change.”

That humbug takes some brass neck from a newspaper a staunch supporter of Labour in Scotland for decades, an anti-independence party. It is a proclamation of cowardice.

I repeat: what Scotland misses is a diverse, free, independent, participatory press media that welcomes dissent and protects civil and constitutional rights, the very basis of any viable democracy. A free press exists to support the masses not to condemn them.


The real march for self-governance, not the Sunday Herald version

POST SCRIPT: In a 2015 survey it was revealed, for every £100 newspapers lost in print revenue, newspapers only gained £3 in digital revenue. More than 200 local newspapers have closed since 2005. The response from newspaper owners and editors is to turn against social media as the problem, a tactic which is at heart censorious and neo-liberal.

PPS: Neil Mackay resigned not long after this essay was published, citing ‘ill health’.



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8 Responses to The Newspapers Scotland Needs

  1. Peter A Bell says:

    I’m not sure what interview you watched, but I can assure you neither Simon Pia nor myself was uncomfortable or sweating under the spotlights. For one thing, there were no spotlights. At least, not of the variety that one sweats under. Simon was perfectly comfortable because he is an ‘old hand’ who is at home in a TV studio. I was perfectly comfortable because I had no reason to be uncomfortable.

    I’m pretty sure I did not use the term “colonial mindset”. And the name of The Herald’s Chief Reporter is David Leask.

    Apart from that… meh!

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    I caught and altered the nickname of Leask too late for you, but no matter. 🙂

    The rest of your comments I disagree. I saw what I saw. I feel our broadcasters mean spirited with their broadcasting time.

    More important, and indeed my point in picking up on the interview was how the group dynamics squandered the issue, and how better both of you could have used more time to discuss at length the issues involved. But who knows, I might be the only person who felt that way. I only spent five years in the BBC. always with tiny studios and even smaller budgets.

    You did not use the term ‘colonial mentality’. Had you done so I’d have placed the phrase in inverted commas. Out of respect I’ll remove it. I state you both *looked* uncomfortable. What you felt personally is another matter.

    As for the ‘meh” – that’s pompous if not ungenerous for a man who spent a lot of time and energy going around the north to spread the Word and for whom I’ve expended a lot of admiration. Did you read only the section on your interview?

  3. Peter A Bell says:

    So you wanted the interview to be a different interview. I daresay there were people who’d have preferred a discussion of knitting. Doubtless they too considered that 7 or 8 minutes “squandered”.

    The discussion I took part in concerned a contest between two very distinct and contrasting positions. Simon Pia was arguing for the line taken by Neil Mackay that journalists should get some sort of free pass. In fact, Simon went even further. He criticised Mackay for not showing enough “backbone” in standing up against those who presume to criticise journalists. He was trying to claim almost saint-like qualities for journalists.

    I was making the point that journalists are no different to any other provider of a service or supplier of a product in that the ultimate arbiters of whether their service and/or product is satisfactory has to be the consumer.

    You evidently disagree. But I happen to think that is a difference of perspective which goes to the heart of the debate about the media in Scotland. It is, in a very real sense, a debate which mirrors the constitutional debate. It about who decides. It is about where ultimate power resides.

    Simon Pia *looked” uncomfortable because he was fidgeting. I *looked* uncomfortable because I wasn’t fidgeting. The fact that neither of us was *actually* uncomfortable is irrelevant, it seems.

    I read the whole article. But you’ll just have to accept that my appreciation of it was coloured by the bits that I knew to be nonsense. My opinions may not always be popular. But they are always honest.

    I really think that’s all I want to say here.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    No. You have that all wrong, and I don’t know why.

    I wished the interview a better interview not a different interview, better in content, in layout and in length – I said damn all about your answers or Pia’s other than he kept interrupting you.

    The reference to looking ‘uncomfortable’ is explained in that both of you were given chairs as if waiting in an airport. You would not see that because you were not where I was. Hence I’ve no idea why you’ve taken umbrage.

    I know what could have been improved for the viewer’s benefit as well as benefitting both of you. I draw attention to the interview because it’s symptomatic of how the media picks up on the press’ agenda. They’re one and the same; *owned* by the same people.

  5. Derek Cameron says:

    When Neil Mackay attacked readers after that horrific distortion of a front page a few weeks back he forfeited the trust and respect of a large swathe of the people of Scotland which he shows no interest in seeking to recover. His newspaper is now in its final trajectory to the scrap heap. He is not fit to lace the boots of the Grousebeater.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Derek – I read Mackay’s article three times. It’s is a good example of the non-apology apology.

  7. stuart colligan says:

    Very well written article, and highlights the dire situation with mainstream media in Scotland in general, in it’s current format it just shouldn’t exist. To a thinking person the “news” as they publish it, is worse than having no news at all.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    Hello Stuart _ the ‘free’ press is beginning to appear on the internet. By that I mean, it might be partisan, but it is in debt to no one and can take a principled stand on issues.

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