Tartan army left smarting as 'Sun' deserts the cause

Election Countdown
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The Independent Online
Kinning Park, Rupert Murdoch's mini Wapping on Clydeside, yesterday joined Culloden and Glencoe as a scene of betrayal in the Scottish nationalist psyche when the only daily newspaper to support the cause of Scottish independence deserted it on the battlefield.

The tartanised edition of the Sun - which came out in support of a separate Scottish state in the run-up to the 1992 election - not only brutally turned its back on Alex Salmond's Scottish Nationalist Party, but urged its 400,000 subscribers north of the border to lay down their claymores and rally behind that smooth-talking Sassenach, Tony Blair.

Mr Salmond instantly and instinctively blamed the oppressive English for this sudden switch of allegiance. The "thumbscrews" had applied on the paper from London, where the English edition of the Sun had deserted the Tories and backed Mr Blair 24 hours previously. "I'm not so much angry as sad - sad when any Scottish institution has to swallow an imposed line from south of the border," he told BBC Radio Scotland.

In words which would have had William Wallace's hung, drawn and quartered body birling in its grave, the Scottish Sun splashed its policy shift in a front-page editorial under the headline "Bravehearts must wait ... it's time for brave heads."

The leading article argued: "We are throwing our weight behind the Labour Party at this election. Their plans for a Scottish parliament are far from ideal. But it's a start." If Labour's promised Scottish assembly turned out to be a "shambles", this would reinforce the argument for independence - and if it was a success Scots would seek more power.

But Mr Salmond said the election in Scotland was a two-horse race between the SNP and Labour and claimed the paper's Scottish staff had resisted the decision.

"The Scottish Sun has been forced to change its line through orders from London," he said, adding that the move was in line with Labour's "purge" of the Labour Party in Scotland.

"If Tony Blair set up a Scottish assembly, no doubt he would put the thumbscrews on that as well," he said.

Labour in Scotland welcomed its latest convert, despite the Sun's qualification that it still supported independence as a long-term goal.

Jim Wallace, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the newspaper's support for independence in Scotland and the Tories in England had always been "bizarre". But the Scottish Tory party chairman, Sir Michael Hirst, said: "A newspaper which one day supports independence and then the next supports Unionism is showing the consistency of a weather vane on a stormy day."

Neither Rupert Murdoch nor any of his minions at Wapping, or Kinning Park in Glasgow were available for comment yesterday. But they are, obviously, poised on both sides of the border to pen any comment which the Australian- American media believes will advance the construction of his global media empire from now until 1 May.