Is the “Vow” a Record breaker?

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By Alex Mooney

Delivering a knockout blow to the dreams of independence for 1.6 million people could become a nightmare for the Daily Record.

As the referendum campaign reached its climax with both sides too close to call, the Record unleashed a thundering howitzer. Just two days before the vote the title ran its ‘vow’ front page with the three party leaders promising extra powers if we stayed in the Union.

It was an inspired idea – targeting the crucial waverers – and superbly executed in terms of its dramatic projection. For editor Murray Foote and his staff there could be nothing but joy over a stunning game changer that altered the course of a country’s history. In terms of impact it doesn’t get any better.

Yet sometimes you lose even when you win.

The paper’s iconic masthead proudly proclaims it is Scotland’s Champion. For many of its readers now that’s a bitter irony too painful to bear and they could walk away and push the title into irreversible decline.

As results from the vote emerged through the night it became clear Glasgow and North Lanarkshire – the paper’s heartlands – had predominantly said yes.

At some point next day the Record’s circulation director must have realised they had alienated more than half of an already dwindling readership.

Now, two weeks on, many on the yes side are aiming their anger and frustration at the paper, demanding a boycott. Social media is boiling with discontent over the part it played in the campaign.

Inevitably, rumours are already circulating on the internet of a serious drop in Record sales. While there is nothing official to confirm this, it would be no surprise if that is the case and Scotland’s most influential paper in living memory could be in dangerous waters.

Yet there should be no criticism of Foote and his journalists. Any sniping and bitterness aimed at them is utterly unjustified.

The Record is a Labour paper and always has been, certainly in modern times. It is also owned by the Mirror in London so there was never the remotest chance it would support independence. Its journalists, including the editor, would have had no say over which position to take on such a passionate and divisive issue.

I happen to know that many of its staff voted yes and were as gutted as anyone by the outcome – those firing insults at Record writers should remember that.

The venom stems from a general ignorance about how the mainstream media works. Reporters – other than columnists – are not allowed to voice their opinions. Most people think that every journalist in the world should be of the John Pilger mould. The reality is that journalism is more mundane and focuses on being entertaining and informative rather than revelatory.

There is a massive PR industry all over the world that feeds the media. Even prime ministers and presidents are elected thanks to their spin doctors and image consultants. Those of you looking for hard investigative reporting will find it increasingly difficult to find. Media managements long ago slashed budgets and the Record wasn’t immune from a brutal editorial cull.

Worryingly, I see a parallel developing post-indy with what happened when Rangers went into meltdown three years ago. The web has provided an uncensored platform for obsessive haters – many of them anonymous – who spread deluded nonsense and theories then claim it as ‘fact’.

The internet is polluted by inane and insane ramblings which are picked up by fellow travellers who view themselves as ‘citizen journalists’. Their task, as they see it, is to reveal ‘massive’ stories the mainstream media is hiding. It is arrant nonsense.

In Rangers’ case, a sizeable element of supporters grasped the chance to express their decades of simmering rage against the ‘Protestant establishment club’. The Record was targeted because it had colluded in a ‘cover-up’ and the ensuing character assassination of many journalists on the internet was vicious. It continues to this day.

The same thing is happening now with elements from the yes side and it’s wrong.

The Record’s position in the campaign was straightforward. It clearly backed the Union but, as it should, gave the yes side space to air their views. It’s called balance. Those demeaning its role forget the many pages given to Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and others – including its SNP columnist Joan McAlpine – from the pro-indy side.

Print, while declining, remains a powerful force – especially for older readers – and voters are still swayed by their newspapers of choice.

Wonderful writers like Ian Bell, Iain Macwhirter, Lesley Riddoch, Kevin McKenna, Joyce McMillan and many others were all regularly given space in Scottish papers to explain why they wanted independence. They know the value of print – that it is still a more authoritative avenue for forming opinions.

I have read the Record since I was a boy. I even took their shilling for a dozen years or so as a sub editor. In many ways, it is a very fine paper. Not perfect, but it’s still as good as anything in Scotland today.

And it it has many excellent journalists who deserve better than the abuse they are getting.

Murray Foote is hugely talented, honest and balanced. You won’t find any journalist in Scotland who doesn’t respect his abilities. His paper is now in the firing line and he’s big enough to understand that was always going to be a consequence of saying no.

I suspect he will be praying for the promised vows to be delivered sooner rather than later so that his paper’s stance is vindicated. But even he must know that’s a tall order, given the splits already showing between the three parties.

He must wonder though what might have been if the Record had backed independence. Let me tell him. That ‘Scotland’s Champion’ on the masthead would have resonated around the country and the title’s circulation would be soaring through the roof instead of plummeting – regardless of the result.

It would seem its fate has been sealed. What a chance squandered on the orders of an out-of-touch, faraway management in thrall to the London Labour party machine.

Ownership of the media is a genuine concern and if the keyboard warriors want a fight they should aim their fire in that direction rather than at journalists in Scotland who have no choice other than to do their City masters’ bidding.

The pro-indy sites are drawing up plans to strengthen their efforts for whatever unfolds in the next few years. Which is all well and good – and they did a superb job in marshalling a vital grassroots movement – but it’s not enough.

I am as disenchanted as anyone on the yes side by the referendum result. But I knew it would be a huge struggle to convince enough voters to say yes with a media overwhelmingly saying no. Until that changes it will remain ever thus.

Or an ailing Record could change its spots…