The National, Scotland’s first and, to date, only pro-independence daily newspaper, celebrates its third birthday today. It’s difficult to adequately express what an achievement this is. Nobody launches anew newspaper these days. And for very good reason. It’s just not a very clever thing to do, if your priority is financial success. Pretty much the entire newspaper industry is in what appears to be terminal decline, with titles shedding readers, advertisers and staff the way Kezia Dugdale sheds her dignity. It is not an environment in which a young newspaper can be expected to flourish.
This particularly so when the publication in question attempts to be innovative in ways which provoke the ire of the newspaper industry and the British political establishment. By breaking with the cosy consensus of London-centric political journalism, The National made itself a lot of enemies from its very inception. With its bold, attention-grabbing covers it challenged the expectations of traditionalists. And, of course, by being explicitly pro-independence, it marked itself for death, as far as Unionists were concerned.
That The National has survived is largely attributable to the commitment and dedication of its editor, Callum Baird, his staff, and a roster of regular contributors who are both enthusiastic and highly readable. My thanks and congratulations go to every one of them.
Those who keep The National alive are due the gratitude of the entire independence campaign and, whether they would acknowledge or even be aware of it, every person in Scotland who values democracy. The National has its critics – both among Unionists, as you would expect, and within the Yes movement. Callum Baird has attempted to answer some of the criticisms and questions today. This, in itself, sets The National apart from the mainstream print media. Taken alongside the roadshows which are happening across Scotland it is a remarkable thing indeed. Can you imagine the editor of any British newspaper actually engaging with their audience in this way? Mostly, they seem to regard readers as the enemy. Or, at best, an inconvenience which must be tolerated with no good grace at all while they are herded into the maw of advertisers.
But this is far from the only, or the most significant way in which The National stands out from the mass of the media in Scotland. It’s refreshing that Callum and his team are prepared to respond to readers’ questions and get face-to-face with them in their own communities. It is not, however, the most important thing that The National brings to Scottish culture. Nor, you may be surprised to hear, is the paper’s support for independence – welcome as this may be. The most valuable contribution that The National makes to Scotland’s conversation with itself is the way in which it demonstrates that an alternative perspective is possible.
Particularly in Scotland, the British mainstream media have come to be defined by the stories they fail to tell; the questions they fail to ask; and the journalistic principles they fail to uphold. Despite having token contributors to whom they can point when challenged, the British press and broadcast media present to Scotland a Scotland entirely as seen through the remote, narrowed and myopically parochial eyes of a British establishment which is, in various measures, ignorant about, suspicious of and hostile to Scotland’s increasingly distinctive political culture.
The British media are lying to us. Every day and in a multitude of ways, they are set upon misleading us and deceiving us. They are part of the British establishment and serve only the British establishment. To the extent that they have a duty to serve democracy by facilitating informed choice, they are in gross dereliction of that duty.
The National is different. Not different enough to satisfy some. But certainly different enough to be an irreplaceable asset for the Yes movement and a good thing generally for Scotland – even if its contribution to our democratic political discourse is largely unappreciated and, in certain quarters, extremely unwelcome.
The National needs the support of Scotland’s people. It deserves the support of all Scotland’s people. It cannot expect the support of those who abhor any challenge to the existing structures of power, privilege and patronage. It is entitled to demand the support of those who would defend Scotland’s right of self-determination; those who aspire to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status; and those who simply welcome diversity in our media.
The Yes movement needs The National. At the very least, it is a wedge driven into cracks in the media armour which protects a corrupt and dangerously incompetent British state. As we wish The National a happy third birthday, let us resolve to spend the next year hammering at that wedge until we break through. I want to see the cover on the Independence Day issue of The National.Views: 2009
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