Rob Brown column
Monday 12 January 1998
Those of us who have worked on either of these two titles - I have worked for both - do not need an official body like ABC to confirm their "national" status. Although The Scotsman and "SoS" have never commanded anywhere near the same editorial resources, their journalists have always considered themselves on a par with their counterparts on the London-based broadsheets. They have certainly long been a league above even the best of the English provincial press.
The decision by David and Frederick Barclay to make Andrew Neil editor- in-chief of The Scotsman Publications plus The European (their first media acquisition) was not wildly welcomed by those of us who regard his right- wing politics and macho management style as slightly repugnant. But luring back across the border a journalist with such celebrity status did undoubtedly enhance the profile and status of The Scotsman: like it or not, Neil makes news.
Actually, the former Sunday Times editor has largely extricated himself from the Edinburgh end of the operation to concentrate on the relaunch of both Sunday Business and The European, and to engage in further empire building. He has left Martin Clarke, the abrasive young Englishman drafted in from the Scottish Daily Mail, to put his personal stamp on The Scotsman.
Clarke's man management style is, if anything, even more macho than Neil's and has caused many to flee in horror. But there is no denying that he has injected an aggression and flair into the paper's news pages which was sorely lacking in the past.
On a recent return visit to Glasgow, I encountered several inhabitants of that city who had started to subscribe to The Scotsman for the first time or was seriously contemplating doing so. That is a significant achievement given that the Scottish quality newspaper market has always been deeply balkanised.
Ancient East-West animosities have not evaporated, of course. I have not seen a recent regional breakdown of Scottish circulation figures, but I am sure the number of Glaswegians who have converted to Clarke's paper is still tiny.
The Scotsman might project itself as "Scotland's National Newspaper" but it is still regarded by most Scots as the house journal of the Edinbourgeoisie, an institution as closely identified with Scotland's capital as its medieval castle and massive Hogmanay parties.
This was always a great frustration to me when I toiled in the paper's Glasgow bureau. Working for The Scotsman in Scotland's largest city was akin to being a foreign correspondent in your own country. En route to work in the morning on the city's underground system, I invariably saw more people reading Die Zeit or Le Monde than The Scotsman.
Exactly the same was true for those who worked for the Glasgow Herald in Edinburgh. That paper's previous owners sought to give a pan-Scottish appeal by dropping the world "Glasgow" from the mast head, but few were fooled. The Herald's circulation is still concentrated in the Clydeside conurbation.
The crude marketing move was never backed up by a sophisticated strategy. The Herald's editorial content retained a distinct West Coast bias and its advertising even more so. If you are looking for a house in Edinburgh, there is no point in buying The Herald..
The Scotsman's classified sections display an equally glaring East Coast bias, but its local advertising monopoly makes the paper highly profitable. There are a few other reliable ways of targeting ABC 1s in Edinburgh than booking space in it.
Tartanised editions of London titles have made significant inroads among Edinburgh's highly anglicised elite, but none of them can deliver the same impressive demographics to advertisers as The Scotsman. Edinburgh is already one of the most prosperous cities in Britain and confidently poised to have its local economy further boosted by playing host to the new Scottish parliament.
The focus of the Scottish economy is shifting so markedly eastwards that I would be pretty worried if I were still living in Glasgow or working on a newspaper there which was heavily reliant on that city's economic performance. Glasgow is far from an urban basket case, but its civic leaders will have to exercise supreme vision and imagination in the years ahead to ensure that it is not eclipsed by Edinburgh.
The Herald should not just be a spectator, but should play a central role in that renewal process. "Civic boosterism" has been a responsibility recognised by big regional newspapers in the United States for some time. It is not about cheerleading or turning a blind eye to the failings of the city fathers, but providing the community which your newspaper serves with a forum for constant, constructive debate. There are few cities more in need of such a forum than Glasgow.
The Herald should restore the word "Glasgow" to its masthead. The paper is part of the urban fabric of Scotland's largest city and should be proud of that fact. For all its ugly problems, the new Glasgow is the heart and soul of the new Scotland - ideal territory in which to produce a newspaper which commands not just national but international respect.
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