By Martin Kelly
The Sunday Herald has become the first national newspaper to back a Yes vote in this year’s independence referendum.
In a move which shocked activists on both sides, the newspaper made the announcement in a tweet of its front page which bore the headline “Sunday Herald says Yes”.
In its editorial, the Sunday Herald states: “Scotland is an ancient nation and a modern society. We understand the past, as best we can, and guess at the future. But history is as nothing to the lives of the children being born now, this morning, in the cities, towns and villages of this country.
“On their behalf, we assert a claim to a better, more decent, more just future in which a country’s governments will be ruled always by the decisions of its citizens.”
Within minutes of the announcement, independence supporters were sharing the news and retweeting the front page which was specially designed by Scottish artist Alasdair Gray.
Messages of support for the newspaper from Yes campaigners have flooded social media. One tweet urged Yes campaigners to take a ‘selfie’ of themselves holding the front page. Within 45 minutes of being set up, over 1000 people had joined a Facebook page thanking the newspaper.
However unsurprisingly, pro-Union activists and politicians were less than pleased with the news. Greenock Labour councillor Steven McCabe described the newspaper as “readerless”.
He later tweeted: “I hear that @newsundayherald is to relaunch next week under a new name… ‘Pravda'”
Blair McDougall, who is the campaign director of the anti-independence Better Together, tweeted sarcastically: “Bloody bias MSM…Threatening phone call to editor…Never buying again, etc etc…That’s how this works, right?”
The news was reported in the Sunday Herald sister paper the Herald, which informed readers that owners Newsquest had decided to allow each of the editors of its Scottish titles to decide whether to back Yes or No.
The publisher said: “The Herald & Times Group, publisher of the Sunday Herald, The Herald and the Evening Times, is giving the titles’ editors freedom to take their own editorial position on the constitution. The company is non-political and neutral.
“The Herald has not declared an opinion on the referendum question. It will be up to its editor to decide when and if to do so.”
Despite giving its support to the Yes campaign, the overwhelming number of Scottish newspapers continue to oppose Scottish independence. The industry in Scotland has been in decline for a number of years with most newspapers now owned outwith Scotland.
The issue of declining readership will be covered by Herald columnist Iain McWhirter in a soon to be published piece in the Saltire. In the piece, Mr Macwhirter warns that the situation in Scotland could lead to problems in Scottish society.
He writes: “Newspaper sales are falling across Britain and the world, but the precipitate collapse of the Scottish press presents particular problems to Scottish civil society. The relative dominance of the London press, as the indigenous titles decline disproportionately, has left the Scottish electorate poorly served by mediums of intelligent communication.
“And the sacking of Scottish staff means that the content of the Scottish editions of UK papers sold in Scotland IS increasingly dominated by issues that are not high political priorities in Scotland. Scotland has a national political system, but is in danger of losing a national media.”