If you are going to declare a clear political affiliation, you might as well do it big. In cricketing terms, if you are going to slash at the ball, slash hard — and that is exactly what the Sunday Herald has done this morning. ‘Sunday Herald says Yes,’ is the front page headline above an illustration by artist and Nationalist Alasdair Gray.
Page one is the declaration and page three is the explanation. The whole of page three is devoted to an editorial setting out the reasons for the Sunday Herald’s decision to come out for the Nats. It is a pretty good and well-argued exposition of the Yes case, acknowledging the potential problems of independence but concluding that the referendum is ‘the chance to remake our society in a more equal, inclusive, open and just way’.
The editorial also insists: ‘We state our opinion not in an attempt to persuade our readers.’ That is probably true. What the Sunday Herald is undoubtedly aware that many unionist readers will not be persuaded of its arguments and may actually quit the paper as a result of today’s move. So this is actually quite a canny appeal to the readers of other papers who believe passionately in independence to switch over to the Sunday Herald.
For some time, there has been a gap in the market in Scotland. Most of the newspapers are firmly unionist. Some – like the Scottish Daily Mail – have already made it clear where they stand by declaring their full and unequivocal support for the Union. Others, like The Daily Telegraph and The Times in Scotland appear more to have a unionist bent while not explicitly endorsing the No camp – at least not yet. As a result, the perceived bias of the Scottish media towards the No camp has been eating away at senior Nationalists for a while.
Always ready for a conspiracy theory, there are many Nationalists who use their anger at the ‘unionist press’ to justify their failure to take a lead in the polls or convince enough Scots to support independence. And it these Nationalists that the Sunday Herald is now pitching itself to. There is a big constituency out there and the Sunday Herald will hope to attract readers from other, more unionist, Sunday titles as a result.
But the one big question which remains, following the Sunday Herald’s Yes Scotland endorsement, is whether any other papers will do the same. It is possible that some may do so. The Herald (the Sunday Herald’s daily counterpart) may declare for independence but, if it does, it will not do so until much closer to the referendum and only if the editors believe the paper has something to be gained from doing so.
It is a similar position at The Sun in Scotland which famously declared its support for the SNP at the last Scottish elections. If the referendum campaign heads decisively in the Nats’ favour in the final couple of weeks then The Sun may see that as a bandwagon it wants to join but it will almost certainly not make that decision until it absolutely has to. At the moment, then, there is just one newspaper in Scotland committed to a Yes vote: The Sunday Herald but whether it is destined to plough a loan furrow from now until September 18 remains to be seen.