Not celebrating the sad decline of The Scotsman newspaper



Back in 2004, I carried out a piece of research, published the next year in the European Journal of Communication (ref below), comparing the coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the Herald/Sunday Herald and the Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday. Here’s what I concluded based on the analysis of around 1600 war reports in each:

‘The Herald/Sunday Herald, on balance, produced an anti-war climate which contrasted with that in The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday, where the extensive and unquestioning use of military sources produced a climate at least accepting of the war.’ (479)

I had moved from the East of Scotland to the West in 1984 and at the time switched from the Scotsman to the Herald. I’d been fond of the Scotsman, bought it every day and found it informative and intelligent. Though a bit to the right of my own thinking on many social and economic issues, I knew what I was getting. When I started to read the Herald, I thought it and the Scotsman, quite similar, sitting somewhere in the centre ground of Scottish politics, pro-devolution, maybe a wee bit to the left of the overall UK picture and quite critical of UK foreign policy of the post-imperialist kind. So, the results of my research were a bit of a surprise. I had expected them both to be at least, on balance, sceptical or critical of Blair’s Iraq adventurism. Here’s a bit more from the research:

‘Figures 6 and 7 suggest quite a clear distinction between the two groups of newspapers with The Herald/Sunday Herald consistently presenting a more negative view of the war than The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday. In part this distinction can be attributed to a greater tendency in The Herald/Sunday Herald to present explicitly anti-war arguments and to report political damage to UK politicians and parties, despite lower overall quantity of coverage of the war (Figure 1), but also, this difference results from the tendency in The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday to report more frequently on military achievements and movements. Though The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday gave space to extended and strong critiques of the war agenda, there were relatively fewer of these than in The Herald/ Sunday Herald and, crucially, they were more likely to be balanced or, on particular days, outnumbered by other stories.’ (470)

These two quotes appearing on the same day were, I thought, revealing of the different starting points for analysis of reports coming in:

58 Die in new Baghdad Market Blast – Women and Children Killed by Stray Cruise Missile Say Iraqis.’ (The Herald, 29 March)

Iraqis Claim 58 Killed in Market by Allied Missile – at Least 58 People Were Said to Have Been Killed.’ (The Scotsman, 29 March) (474)

Jump forward, ten years to March 2014 and read in the Scotsman:

‘BBC portrayed Alex Salmond as ‘figure of fun’’

This report followed my appearance at the Holyrood Education and Culture committee where, amongst other things, I accused the BBC of having demonised Alex Salmond in the run up to the Referendum. The Scotsman report gave virtually no space to my research and allowed the BBC to both wrongly undermine it and, crucially avoid, the central question implied in their headline. The actual data proving my claim is in the reference below.

However, perhaps even more indicative of the Scotsman’s decline into tabloid indecency than their actual report was their practice of not moderating out offensive comments, unlike the Herald, made by readers below the article. The worst have since been moderated out but here are two still deemed acceptable:

‘Doctor Robertson is at least one sandwich short of a picnic.’

‘Does Prof Robertson still do the Woodwork and Arts & Crafts classes at Paisley College of FE?’

So, the suggestion of a mental health problem and rank snobbery were still OK in 2014?

Sometimes, I go back to Scotsman articles online and attempt to engage. The overwhelming and venomous unionist comment soon swamps my comments. Again the contrast with the more intelligent debate in Herald article follow-up is marked.

What has caused this drift to harsh unionism and associated militarism in the Scotsman? See this simple explanation from the Herald in 1996:

‘FORMER Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil has been named editor-in-chief of European Press Holdings, which owns the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News. The appointment, however, met a mixed reaction from pro-devolution supporters yesterday, given Mr Neil’s well-publicised opposition to the movement. In particular the continued editorial independence of the Scotsman, which has adopted a pro-devolution stance, was being questioned. Canon Kenyon Wright, of the Constitutional Convention, said last night he had real concerns over the appointment: “Obviously there will be considerable apprehension,” he said. “I would have some fear that the paper’s stance might change.”

I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure, that the late Canon, was sadly correct nor do I need to remind you of the dread Mr Neil’s ongoing dark shadow over Scottish and UK politics.



8 thoughts on “Not celebrating the sad decline of The Scotsman newspaper

  1. Ian January 25, 2017 / 2:11 pm

    The comment sections on the Scotsman are awful…..I have given up.

    I subscribed to the online herald a couple of years on either side of the referendum. I was incredibly disappointed when it came out for ‘no’ with a few weeks to go to the vote. Up till that point I had thought it had been fairly balanced and even handed – in contrast to the Scotsman. But since the referendum, I reckon the herald has also lost its way.


  2. Contrary January 26, 2017 / 8:51 am

    Hi John, propaganda is an insidious thing, I have heard said that it only influences people that want to be influenced but I do not believe that, the way a report is presented and the choice of what is presented slowly eats away at people’s opinions, beliefs and behaviour – outright lies and misrepresentation causing the biggest damage. Whatever happened to common decency and some basic integrity? Some fellow-feeling?

    Very interesting that Mr Neil has influence on the Scotsman, it is these little nuggets of information that clarify some behaviours. I can’t look at comments sections in newspapers any more, they are horrible.

    What surprises me is the level of influence politicians, and the government in particular, has on behaviour. I believe Maggie Thatcher had a far more harmful effect, other than the ‘big’ things (destroying industry etc), in whittling away at the strong sense of community that Scotland had – there is still some left, but not to the same extent that I remember as a child – do you remember the advent of yuppies? No one remembers that term anymore, because it is now the norm; look after yourself, it is okay to be selfish and self-serving, money is the most important thing. With values like that I don’t wonder too hard at why folks are more interested in their mortgage than independence, but it does make me sad. Every time I hear someone moaning about childcare costs, I think of Thatcher.

    But the number of people that hear the current UK government, and believe it is now okay to say abusive and awful things on ‘comments’ – the Internet and social media is blamed for this, and the seeming anonymity of the medium, but are there really that many people that think it is okay to talk to others in a particularly cruel manner? That moderators think it is fine to allow personal attacks? That behaviour seems to be mimicking government behaviour. What makes any of us so perfect that we can be judgemental of others??

    GMS this week has been filled with ‘Scotland is… the WORST … the FATTEST … in the western world’. Child poverty is the subject today. And I hear them slavvering with glee when they say the WORST, which is emphasised and repeated in case you didn’t quite catch it at the start, or middle, of the sentence. Techniques interviewers have are to encourage people in favour of saying Scottish people are the WORST, by repeated these words and using the basic technique ‘don’t you think… ‘. Interviewees that are arguing against the ‘we are the WORST everywhere, of all time’ are talked over, aggressively questioned (usually out of context), and often cut off. People talk of the national ‘cringe’, I see it as the national depression, our own country-people telling us, and telling themselves, just how truly rubbish they are. How can they live with themselves?

    Meanwhile, the strongly elected Scottish government talks of fairness, social justness, equality, but does not get a fair hearing in media. How I would like just to hear a dispassionate look at what the Scottish government is doing, what is actually happening in Scotland, some rational analysis. Instead I have to actively look for that information on the Internet. Madness!

    Apologies for waxing lyrical, I listen to GMS to get weather and traffic and no music, can’t escape it for now, and it really isn’t good for ones health. Also barely muttered this morning was ‘and suicides have gone down’ – out of badness I would like to produce a correlation graph between that fall and the fall in radio Scotland listeners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clydebuilt January 26, 2017 / 9:49 am

      Worst child health in world / Europe …..what about the 10’s of millions of children living in England’s heavily polluted cities. Supported by England’s magnificent NHS that’ll keep them healthy. Then they’ve got on Robin McAlpine, accepting it all, encouraging soup making.


  3. Clydebuilt January 26, 2017 / 11:29 am

    The child health scare is based on a report by the RCPHP. … From the reports site.
    Mortality rates for the only age group that allows a direct comparison between England and Scotland ie. the one to nine group In 2014 England had 761 mortalities, Scotland had 49. ….. By proportion if Scotland had the same mortality rate as England we would have seen approximately 64 deaths.


  4. Bryan Weir January 26, 2017 / 5:56 pm

    You mention overwhelming and venomous unionist comment. I spend quite a bit of time posting on Unionist Facebook pages – let’s call it missionary work!

    They hate it when independence supporting Scots show them evidence that their propaganda may not be correct.They don’t like even their crazier posts to be questioned and when they are the venom is clearly evident.

    There is one on the go right now where they are effectively promoting a war with Spain over Gibraltar, citing an incident four years ago when the Spanish police fired rubber a water skier. When something like this gets posted there some of the comments are quite frightening. These particular Unionist people are real crazies, they really are aff their heids.

    When I visit these pages I stick to the subject being discussed and I never get abusive. This makes them even angrier and the folks on the one I am frequenting right now have subjected me to all sorts of abuse. See

    They want Nicola Sturgeon to be hanged and they think Donald Trump is a messiah with many of them lauding his decision to make torture his policy. If you are on Facebook and you get a chance have a look at this page. It is a real eye opener and they have more than 50,000 followers..

    I knew there were a lot of rabid right wingers down south but I did not realise just how bad they were. As someone once said, “they have renounced the use of reason and talking to them is like administering medicine to the dead”.


    • johnrobertson834 January 26, 2017 / 8:48 pm

      Thanks, interesting stuff. You’re a bad boy! But, hey if you’re enjoying yourself?


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