The National is a business … but do not mistake our drive

The National, by Richard Walker
05.01.20

I DON’T normally respond to social media criticism of The National – people, after all, are entitled to their own opinion, and there are plenty of readers who love this newspaper, for which we are eternally grateful.

But there is a particular misconception we see from time to time, which resurfaced again last week, and I want to clear it up for all of our readers.

Specifically, it is the idea that The National was launched by The Herald in order to section off pro-independence opinion – with the result being a more Unionist Herald.

As I said, I believe people are entitled to their views, and they have every right to be suspicious of The National, whether justified or not.

But since I started the newspaper and had a front-row seat at the circumstances around the launch, I feel some sort of responsibility to set the record straight, or at least record the events as I see them.

Firstly, The Herald didn’t launch The National. The Herald and The National are both owned by Newsquest, a company which also owns a number of other UK newspapers.

Newsquest, to the best of my knowledge, has never voiced support for the principle of Scottish independence, and it would be entirely wrong to attribute the launch of this newspaper to any desire of the company to see Scotland vote to leave the UK. As far as I know, it’s ambivalent on the issue.

But it was Newsquest who put forward no opposition to my decision as editor of the Sunday Herald in 2014 to bring the paper out in support of a Yes vote in the independence referendum. And it was Newsquest who agreed after that referendum to launch The National as the only daily newspaper to support the proposition of independence.

The Herald had nothing to do with either decision.

I believe Newsquest simply believed there was a gap in the market  … and it was right. The National and Sunday National remain the only independence-supporting newspapers in Scotland, a fact which says many things about the diversity of this nation’s media and none of them good.

Critics are, again, entitled to be suspicious of an initiative they believe to be inspired by the aim of making money, but if you want a mainstream media company to embrace the prospect of running a pro-independence newspaper – and many, many readers did in 2014 and still do – you have to accept none will do so if it loses money.

And although Newsquest may not have announced support for Scottish independence, those of us who work at The National certainly do support it.

I believe that the very presence of a mainstream Yes-supporting newspaper on the news stands helps to “normalise” support for our cause. It is also a vital way to embrace and portray the width and diversity of the whole Yes movement.

Criticism such as the type I have responded to here can be difficult, as there is no way for The National itself to disprove its basic assumptions.

The editorial policy of The Herald is entirely the preserve of those who edit that newspaper, just as the editorial policy of The National is down to us.

Yet decisions taken by The Herald have been used as proof that our very existence somehow undermines the campaign for independence by neutralising pro-Yes opinion. Which in effect means we’re damned whatever we do.

This year is a hugely important one for the Yes movement as we fight to secure the right to decide our own future and to change the minds of those yet to be convinced that independence offers our best option.

Let’s join forces to achieve those aims rather than opening divisions among us.