Something highly unusual happened this week in Scotland – a new daily newspaper was launched on an unsuspecting public.
Avowedly pro-independence, The National hit the streets on Monday and sold out in a matter of hours; soon prompting complaints that it was as tough to track down as the proverbial hens teeth.
A hard copy of the first edition (sold for 50p) can still be bought – but only if you’re prepared to fork out at least a tenner for it on eBay. In an era where papers are cutting staff and resources like there’s literally no tomorrow this is pretty stunning stuff.
By any measure then the first few days of this fledgling publication have been an enormous success. There are, of course, good reasons why it has been shifting up to 60,000 copies per day.
Post-referendum things remain very much up in the air. Politically there’s plenty of unfinished business, not least the thorny issue of further devolved powers to Holyrood and an ongoing Labour leadership election.
Then there’s the media. For those who didn’t manage to follow every cough of the independence campaign it’s worth reflecting on the deep grassroots unease – nay, outright anger – on the Yes side about what is seen as an overwhelmingly pro-Union press.
Just one newspaper – The National’s sister paper, the Sunday Herald – came out in favour of independence. Others such as The Scotsman and the traditionally Labour-supporting Daily Record, were never likely to dive headlong into the Yes camp.
That meant the most pronounced and resolutely pro-indy voices were to be found away from the mainstream media on websites such as Wings Over Scotland and Bella Caledonia.
The Sunday Herald certainly did rather well on the back of its independence declaration, increasing by more than a hundred per cent its year on year circulation.
Such numbers are gold dust in these thin times and it can hardly be denied that The National is as much an economic as a democratic venture. Its publishers – Newsquest – have made it clear this is no more than a five-day pilot. It’s sink or swim right now, this week.
Wisely The National‘s editor, Richard Walker, has said he’s no knowledge of sales targets and even if he did would not spell out what they are.
Frankly has no need to take any hostages to fortune for his success with the Sunday Herald is evidence enough that the new paper stands more than a fighting chance.
It has a clear raison d’etre and will be welcomed by a large number of the 1.6 million Scots who voted Yes, a fair number of potential readers.
Angela Haggerty is editor of CommonSpace – a digital news and social networking service funded by the pro-independence Common Weal think-tank. She views the advent of The National as a “welcome development” and “certainly a step towards changing a lack of balance in the newspaper industry.”
That may depend on where you stand however, with some pro-Union journalists already gleefully describing the new venture as “McPravda”.
A cheap shot this may be, but still, the last thing any newspaper would wish to be is a free-sheet for the party of government.
Doubtless the SNP will be rubbing its hands at the emergence of The National. For its part, its journalists will need to be prepared to hold the Holyrood government and Parliament to account as much as it would do the Smith Commission over devolution.
Indeed there is already some evidence of wider horizons, with child poverty and social inequality featuring as front-page leads.
As Haggerty rightly points out “at the very least the Scottish media has some excitement in it again. It has been a long time coming.”
So let’s have no knocking of The National, a serious voice reflecting a large chunk of public opinion and the changing landscape of Scottish politics. It deserves to be taken seriously.
Douglas Beattie is a journalist, author of The Rivals Game, Happy Birthday Dear Celtic, and The Pocket Book of Celtic, and a Labour Councillor based in London. He grew up in Scotland