Scotched earth policy

 

From culture24.org.uk

 

Last month, it was announced that the debt-troubled newspaper firm Johnston Press had been taken over by JPI Media, a company especially set up for the takeover by the firm’s lenders.  Soon after, it emerged that the value of one particular outpost of Johnston Press’s empire, the Edinburgh-based triumvirate of the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Evening News, had dropped in value from 160 million pounds in 2005 to just four million today.

 

I’ve intended since then to write something about this sorry state of affairs – and especially about plight of the Scotsman, which at one time could justifiably claim to be Scotland’s national newspaper.  But apathy has prevented me from writing about it until today.  That’s unsurprising.  As far as my feelings about the Scotsman are concerned these days, ‘apathy’ is the operative word.

 

It’s hard to believe in 2018, but for a period of my life I read the Scotsman a lot.  When my family arrived in Scotland in 1977, it was one of the daily newspapers they had delivered to their door.  They – soon it was ‘we’ because by the time I was 12 or 13 I’d got into the habit of reading it too – liked it because everything you needed to know was there: news about Scotland, about Britain and about the wider world, plus some intelligent comment and opinion.  And for my Dad, who was a farmer, it had a good agricultural section.  It’s interesting  that in those days we never felt any urge to sample the London-based newspapers, even though they were freely available on the shelves of the local newsagent.  I suspect this was the same in many households across Scotland.

 

By the time I’d become a college student, my political beliefs had shifted to the left – and to the belief that Scotland should be ruled not by London but by the people who lived in it and should be an independent country.  Now I understood that the Scotsman was never going to be the reading matter of choice for revolutionary socialists intent on sticking it to the Man, or as it was in those Thatcherite times, the Woman.  But in its sombre, quietly-on-the-side-of-social-justice way, the old newspaper still had my respect.

 

Incidentally, for a period in the early 1990s, I really liked its sister paper, the Scotland on Sunday.  I remember living for half-a-year in Harlow in Essex, working at a private school where the senior teacher also came from Scotland.  Every Sunday morning, we left our respective houses and embarked on a desperate race to get to a particular newsagent’s shop first – the only newsagent in Harlow who stocked the Scotland on Sunday and who seemed to only ever stock one copy of it.  I enjoyed its columns, which included ones written by the agreeably curmudgeonly Kenneth Roy and the spiky, outspoken Muriel Gray, who was one of my heroines at the time since she was a knowledgeable TV music presenter, a horror-story writer, a dedicated hillwalker and a commentator with fire in her belly.

 

(Kenneth Roy, alas, passed away just a couple of weeks ago.  Meanwhile, nowadays, there’s someone called Muriel Gray who tut-tuts about how ghastly Scotland would be if it ever voted for independence and occasionally on twitter plugs opinion pieces written by her right-wing pals for the likes of the Daily Mail and the Spectator.  But I refuse to accept that this Miss Jean Brodie-esque creature is the same Muriel Gray whom I used to worship.  I believe that the real Muriel Gray has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by an evil pod-person double.)

 

Anyway, in the late 1990s, after a lengthy stint in Japan, I found myself living in Edinburgh and I assumed I’d get into the habit of reading the Scotsman again.  I bought a couple of issues and gave up.  It’d suddenly acquired an unpleasantly right-wing editorial tone.  It was scathing about the idea that Scotland should get any degree of home-rule from London – even though the Scottish population had just voted for that, in 1997, in a referendum about the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament.  Hold on, I thought.  Hadn’t the Scotsman, the old Scotsman, been firmly in favour of Scottish devolution?

 

When I asked old friends from my college days – folk like me, interested in politics and current affairs and belonging to a demographic who’d certainly buy newspapers if they thought they were worth buying – they’d shrug and say dismissively, “The Scotsman?  Never read it now.”

 

© BBC

 

It transpired that something tragic had happened.  In the mid-1990s Scotsman Publications had been acquired by media, retail and property tycoons the Barclay Brothers, and they’d installed as their editor-in-chief Andrew Neil, formerly Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenant in the UK (and in 2018 a heavyweight political journalist with the BBC).  Back in the day in the newspaper world, Neil was the man with the reverse-Midas touch: everything he touched turned to shit.  He edited the once-respectable Sunday Times in the 1980s and transformed it into the snide, smug right-wing rag it still is today.  Other publications he was involved with like the European and the Business suffered declining sales and eventually folded.

 

Although Neil didn’t have anything to do with the Scotsman after it passed from the Barclay Brothers to Johnston Press in 2005, the newspaper remained on the right – where Neil had dragged it – and basically never recovered from the dose of journalistic syphilis it’d contracted from him during his tenure.   By 2017, the year of its 200th anniversary, its paid-for circulation was down to about 17,000 copies daily.

 

It’s not as if there hasn’t been much news for the Scotsman to cover in Scotland during the last two decades.   1998 saw the creation of the first Scottish parliament in nearly three centuries, 2007 saw the hitherto unthinkable spectacle of the Scottish Labour Party being booted out of power by the Scottish National Party, 2010 saw the financial collapse of Scotland’s biggest football club Glasgow Rangers, and 2014 saw that wee matter of the referendum on Scottish independence.  Plus we’ve had the tragic death of a Scottish First Minister, Donald Dewar; the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing; the enthronement of President Donald Trump, someone with embarrassingly strong links to Scotland; and the removal of Scotland from the European Union thanks to the Brexit vote, even though most Scottish voters wanted to stay in it.  With so much going on, how come the Scotsman failed to capitalise?  How has the reverse happened – its current dismal readership figures suggesting that it is, to use a memorable simile by Billy Connolly, “as popular as a fart in a spacesuit”?

 

Obviously, the coming of the internet and online news services where stories are continually broken and updated impacted negatively on the Scotsman, but it hasn’t helped itself with the scorched earth policy it’s seemingly waged against its readership and potential readership.  As I said earlier, Andrew Neil’s reign put many people off it.  Then in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, its partisan unionist / ‘vote no’ stance surely pissed off any pro-independence readers who’d stuck with it.  Indeed, two independence-supporting people I know, of my age or slightly older, told me they’d cancelled their Scotsman subscriptions because they were scunnered by its referendum coverage.

 

Of course, many newspaper readers voted ‘no’ to independence – and their side won in 2014.  But politically nearly all the Scottish newspapers are unionist and most are right-wing, so by appealing to those people (and not the 45% who’d voted ‘yes’) the Scotsman was competing for readers in an already crowded field.

 

My Dad soldiered on reading it, mainly for the farming coverage, though he’d frequently grumble that the Scotsman generally ‘wasn’t as good as it used to be’.  Eventually, ill-health meant that he stopped buying it too.  Thus, while its right-wing British-unionist stance pissed off a sizeable section of my generation – probably the last generation in the habit of regularly buying physical newspapers – an older generation more likely to approve of its conservative politics was sickening and dying off.

 

© Daily Record

 

I have to say that only the threat of torture by thumbscrews, the rack and waterboarding would make me fork out money for a copy of it nowadays.  Not when its columnists include such specimens as Brian Wilson, a former minister under Tony Blair, a staunch supporter of the Iraq War and a man with a visceral hatred of the concept of Scottish independence and of anyone who might ever countenance voting for it; Brian Monteith, who led the campaign in 1997 against the establishment of the Scottish parliament and then demonstrated he was a person of true principle by, er, becoming a Conservative Party Member of the Scottish Parliament and pocketing an MSP’s salary there for the next seven years; and dyspeptic political journalist Euan McColm, who detests the SNP so much that steam must pour out of his ears every time Nicola Sturgeon appears on the telly.

 

Recent articles in the Scotsman and its sister newspapers have done nothing to change my mind.  A few weeks ago Brian Monteith, writing in the Scotsman’s sister paper the Evening News, penned an attack piece on Nicola Sturgeon so jaw-droppingly full of sexist jokes about her being obsessed with having her ‘nails done’, deciding ‘what blusher works best’ and making sure she ‘never runs out of killer stilettos’ that I wondered if I was reading something written by the ghost of Bernard Manning.  Meanwhile, Euan McColm wrote an article in the Scotsman dissing the Scottish Politician of the Year award, which in November 2018 went to an SNP politician, Jeane Freeman: “Are you entirely mediocre at your job,” he sneered, “barely capable of carrying out the duties for which you are employed and devoid of imagination?”  McColm had been oddly silent about the award’s shortcomings during the previous two years when it went to Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives and darling of Scotland’s mainstream media.

 

I should say I only know of the above articles because I’ve read extracts of them that were posted on the Internet.  I’d no sooner click on the Scotsman website these days than I’d wade into a dung-filled midden.  Technically, the site is all over the place and is maddening to navigate.  And the comments threads below the online articles are infested with frothing British-nationalist bampots who’d probably like to see people with my political views arrested and locked up for treason.

 

So having roused myself from my apathy, I’ve offered my thoughts on the poor old Scotsman.  Once it was a staple of my daily life in Scotland, now it’s something I avoid like the plague.  And those circulation figures indicate that most other people are avoiding it too.  A few years from now, I suspect its financial situation and that of its parent company will be even more dire and it’ll end up like the Independent – which ceased its print edition in 2016 and exists now in a phantom online version, with a migraine-inducingly bad website and its news team apparently made up of journalism interns who trawl the Internet and social media looking for stories.

 

Well, as the 2018 Scotsman website is already bloody awful, it’s halfway to the Independent’s living-dead status now.

 

A tyrannical, brainwashed one-party state… but that’s enough about Scotland

 

From www.roarforscotland.com

 

Scotland’s political and media landscapes are weirdly juxtaposed these days.  On one hand, since the arrival of Yáng Guāng and Tián Tián at Edinburgh Zoo in 2011, it’s become a common, indeed, a tiresome joke that Scotland now has more panda bears than it has Conservative Party Members of Parliament.  On the other hand, when it comes to having conservative journalists, Scotland is indeed blessed – or cursed, depending on your point of view.  For in Scotland, right-wing newspaper scribes seem to outnumber the midges.

 

(c) BBC

 

For example, there’s Gerald Warner, whose last Scottish-related musings were sighted on the right-wing website www.capx.co, which “brings you the best thinking on popular capitalism from around the web.”  These concerned the Scottish government’s Land Reform Bill, or as Warner puts it in his even-handed, non-partisan way, “another retrograde initiative by doctrinaire Scottish socialists”.

 

Then there’s Alan Cochrane, the Daily Telegraph’s Scottish editor, who late last year published some scribblings he’d made during the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence under the title of Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall – The Cochrane Diaries.  The resulting book attracted breathless, if possibly not 100%-serious reviews on Amazon.  (It “shines a light on the dark and twisted mind of one of the most narcissistic individuals in Britain today.  Also has a few mentions of Alex Salmond.”)

 

And let’s not forget Cochrane’s missus and fellow-journalist, Jenny Hjul, who’s contributed to the Telegraph, Herald, Scotsman and Sunday Times.  During the referendum campaign, Cochrane and Hjul seemed to see themselves less as journalists and more as a crusading husband-and-wife propaganda team dedicated to keeping Scotland British: a sort of Union Jack-bedecked Hart to Hart.

 

There’s also the strangely bitter Tom Gallagher, columnist and Professor Emeritus of History at Bradford University, who once wrote a Telegraph item slamming Scotland for its antipathy towards the Conservative Party.  It was a “Scottish hate-fest”, he claimed, which could be likened to “the fear and detestation of papists in John Knox’s Scotland which delayed the arrival of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act by a good number of years.”  So that’s you told, Scotland.  Not voting Conservative – that’s as evil as hating Roman Catholics.

 

And there’s Daily Mail journalist Chris Deerin, who recently announced his withdrawal from Twitter.  Tweeting “was fun,” he wrote the other day, “until the trolls took over.”  These trolls weren’t only horrible Scottish nationalist cybernats, whom Deerin once described as “repellent individuals… who roam the Internet in search of unionists to duff up”.  No, he also got abuse from another tribe of trolls, newer but equally ghastly, the Corbynistas – supporters of the left-wing Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn, who looks set to become the Labour Party’s next leader.  I’ve been trolled myself occasionally but I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Deerin.  After all, he works for the Daily Mail, a newspaper that’s elevated the trolling of everyone non-white, non-Conservative, non-middle-class and non-English-Home-Counties into an art-form.

 

Also deserving mention is Andrew Neil, now something of a TV star thanks to shows like The Daily Politics and This Week, who served as editor-in-chief with Scotsman Publications from 1996 to 2005.  During this time he managed to transform the once-formidable Scotsman newspaper into the cantankerously-conservative and moribund wee rag it is today.  And there’s the Caledonian clique currently running the Spectator magazine: Fraser Nelson, Hugo Rifkind and Alex Massie.  Young and unfashionably right-wing, Nelson, Rifkind and Massie were once defended on Twitter against charges of anti-Scottish prejudice by the comedian Brian Limond, who pointed out: “They’re Scots.  The ashamed Lulu-voiced kind, but still.”  Hugo Rifkind is son of former Tory Secretary of State for Scotland and disgraced former MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind; while Alex Massie’s Dad is Alan Massie, a novelist of some repute and – yes! – another conservative Scottish journalist.  Massie Senior writes columns for the likes of the Scotsman and Daily Mail.

 

I have tried to list these Scottish right-wing journos in order – going from out-and-out dingbats like Gerald Warner, who basically lives on a planet of his own, to ones whom I think show vestiges of civility and rationality, like the two Massies.  Mind you, both of the latter have blotted their copy books recently – particularly Massie Senior with a ridiculous (and unpleasant) piece for the Mail on Sunday prior to the last general election, which predicted that the River Thames could run red with blood if the Labour Party and Scottish National Party formed a coalition government.  Meanwhile, his sprog, Alex, recently earned my ire not for his political opinions but for his musical ones.  He slagged off Nirvana’s seminal 1991 album Nevermind at the site Ruth and Martin’s Album Club, calling it “the sound of bored teenagers trapped in a garage waiting for the rain to stop…  They should shut up and do something useful.  Like, read a book.”  Memo to Massie Junior: It’s possible to like Nirvana and read books.  I’m proof.

 

http://ramalbumclub.com/post/126672151584/week-32-nevermind-by-nirvana

 

(c) STV

(c) DGC

 

Anyway, what happens when you have so many people of a certain political outlook scribbling away in the organs of the mainstream media?  You get the emergence of narratives.  These narratives may not bear any relation to the facts, or to how things look to the ordinary man or woman on the street.  But fashioned within the cosy – if these days beleaguered – bubble of Scottish conservativism, they are bounced back and forth, refined and fleshed out as one right-wing hack echoes what another right-wing hack said a few days earlier, in turn echoing what a third right-wing hack said the week before.  And as these narratives are served up to the reading public, they’re treated as givens, never to be questioned.

 

One such narrative that’s surfaced recently that Scotland is now a one-party state.  Typical of the hyperbole is a piece Tom Gallagher wrote for another right-wing site, www.thecommentator.com, warning that Scotland was falling prey to a Russian-style ‘creeping tyranny’.  The Scottish National Party have a majority in the Scottish Parliament and, according to opinion polls, look likely to clean up at the next Scottish parliamentary elections in 2016.  And they hold 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the UK Parliament.

 

They’re everywhere.  They control everything – well, everything apart from the many areas of sovereignty that haven’t been devolved to Edinburgh from London.  Any institutions that retain a vestige of independence in Scotland, like the BBC, are subjected to their bullying.  At the Edinburgh Book Festival last month, didn’t the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson accuse the SNP of sending 4000 supporters to picket the BBC’s offices in Glasgow because they didn’t like the corporation’s coverage of the referendum campaign?

 

(c) The Spectator

 

Small wonder that Alex Salmond has been likened to Benito Mussolini (by Alan Cochrane), Joseph Stalin (by Cochrane again), Robert Mugabe (by the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman), Adolf Hitler (by barking mad right-wing historian David Starkey), Slobodan Milosevic (by former Labour MP and former convict Denis McShane) and Vladimir Putin (by Nick Robinson, who compared the BBC protests to something that’d happen in ‘Putin’s Russia’).  And don’t be fooled by the fact that last September Salmond resigned as Scottish First Minister after defeat in the independence referendum and handed the reins of power over to his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon.  That was dynastic stuff, which happens in one-party states too.  Power passed from the Great Leader, Kim Jong Eck, to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Nic.

 

(c) Daily Telegraph 

 

The North Korean parallel is apt since another narrative has emerged – that the SNP is a cult that’s brainwashed the Scottish electorate into voting for it.  The SNP is offering a “millenarian, hallucinatory vision… mystical Gnosis… the catechism of shared faith…” wrote Gerald Warner at www.capx.com.  The SNP is “bluntly dumb, faith-based and irrational,” wrote Chris Deerin in the Mail.  “If Nicola Sturgeon claimed the moon’s made of green cheese,” opined Alex Massie in the Times, “a plurality of Scots would, at the present moment, be inclined to agree with her.”  Yip, those Scots who support the SNP are as deluded as the North Korean public who’ve been force-fed all those propaganda stories about the Kims, such as the one where Kim Jong Il managed eleven holes-in-one the first time he ever picked up a club at the Pyongyang Golf Course.

 

So dreadful are these narratives that it’s a shock to recall that Scotland is actually a democracy.  Its turnout at the last general election was 71%, five percent more than that for the UK as a whole.  The SNP are in the ascendancy because people, you know, voted for them.  Oddly, I don’t remember hearing many complaints about Scotland being a one-party state a few years ago when the place seemed to belong, body and soul, to the Labour Party.  At one point, from 1999 until 2007, the Labour Party ruled Scotland from London under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; and it ran the Scottish government in Edinburgh as senior partner in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; and it’d wielded power at council level in places like Glasgow since, it seemed, the dawn of time.  The lion’s share of Scotland’s MPs were Labour ones and it was another well-worn joke that in Glasgow you could stick a Labour Party red rosette onto a monkey and it would get elected.

 

And the Labour Party’s links with the Scottish media were extensive.  These ranged from Scotland’s (then) most popular tabloid the Daily Record acting as unofficial in-house journal for the Scottish Labour Party; to a Scottish journalist as respected and influential as the BBC’s Kirsty Wark going on holiday with former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell.

 

No, nobody seemed bothered by Labour’s long supremacy in Scotland – not even during those periods when the Conservatives ruled in London.  The assumption seemed to be that it didn’t matter if the Jocks were dominated by Labour because Labour’s Scottish branch was never going to rock the boat in Westminster, where real power resided.

 

From www.scoopnest.com 

 

Also, I find it odd that Scotland is described as a one-party state when not only are Warner, Deerin, the Massies and co. free to criticise the party in government but the overwhelming majority of daily and weekly newspapers there are anti-that-party too.  Only the National, the Sunday Herald and – when it suits them – the Scottish Sun will give them the time of day.  I have to say that the government of a one-party state must be a bit wimpish when more than 90% of the one-party state’s mainstream media doesn’t actually support it.

 

Incidentally, a quick reminder to Nick Robinson.  For full-on, destructive bullying of the BBC, look no further than 2003’s Hutton Inquiry.  This absolved – many would say whitewashed – Tony Blair’s Labour government of responsibility for the death of biological warfare expert / weapons inspector David Kelly following the alleged ‘sexing up’ of the government’s dossier on WMDs possessed by Saddam Hussein.  At the same time it castigated the BBC for inaccurate reporting and caused the resignations of BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and Director General Greg Dyke.  Oh, and the demonstration Robinson alluded to at the BBC’s Glasgow headquarters wasn’t organised by the SNP.

 

Perhaps the unpalatable truth for Scotland’s many right-wing newspaper hacks is that: (1) many voters have decided, after decades of disagreeing with the Tories and being taken for granted by Labour, that they rather like the cut of Nicola Sturgeon’s jib (especially her anti-austerity rhetoric); and (2) they’ve had to put up with so much biased crap from the mainstream media that they’ve decided it’s not to be trusted.  That, indeed, the more it tells them that one thing is the case, the more inclined they are to believe that, no, it’s the opposite that’s really the case.

 

From wingsoverscotland.com

 

The dying Scotsman

 

(c) The Guardian 

 

Quelle surprise.  The Scotsman, which calls itself ‘Scotland’s national newspaper’ and has been rolling off the presses in Edinburgh since 1817, announced near the end of last week that it was supporting a ‘no’ vote in tomorrow’s referendum on Scottish independence.  Anyone who during the past two years has followed the newspaper’s shrill anti-independence headlines (which often contradict or distort what’s actually written in the articles below them) won’t be surprised by this.  Also, I doubt if anyone on the pro-independence side will be troubled by the venerable Edinburgh newspaper coming out against them.

 

According to the most recent figures in the Scotsman’s Wikipedia entry, the poor old thing only manages to sell 28,500 copies daily.  Lately, it’s had to lay off staff-members and reduce its number of pages and supplements and, in April this year, it admitted to a ‘downsizing’ of premises – Scotsman Publications were flitting from Barclay House on Holyrood Road to Orchard Brae House on Queensferry Road, this new home being less than half the size and a third of the rent of the old one.  Probably the SNP, Greens, Radical Independence Campaign and co., keen to promote the idea of a new, independent, dynamic and forward-looking Scotland, are not desperately bothered about failing to win an endorsement from this old Scottish institution that’s plainly dying on its arse.

 

The Scotsman’s sorry state is a shame because at one time it was widely read, made its points intelligently and carried some influence – as much as any newspaper published 400 miles north of London could.  For the many years that my family have lived in Scotland, it’s been the one newspaper delivered to our house every day – my Dad reads it still but grumbles that ‘it’s not what it used to be’ and I suspect he only sticks with it because of old-time loyalty and because he likes its farming coverage.  My disenchantment with it is stronger.  In my opinion, compared with the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s, much of what it prints now ranges from being shallow and vacuous to being hysterical kneejerk crap, Daily Mail / Daily Express-style.

 

And I’m not saying that because I disagree with its politics.  Though even the smartest newspaper in the world would be hard to love if it featured some of the columnists that the Scotsman does.  It begins each week by publishing a piece by surly old Thatcherite Brian Monteith, a man so vehemently opposed to Scotland getting even a measure of home-rule with the creation of the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999 that he led the Think Twice Campaign against it.  Then he promptly joined it as a Conservative MSP.  (When he quit the parliament after seven years, he did describe himself as being ‘a one-man band swimming against the treacly tide of collectivism’ in it, so poor Brian obviously suffered for that MSP salary.)  Meanwhile, each week is rounded off by a Scotsman column written by the gimlet-eyed Brian Wilson, the former Labour MP who’s been banging on about the evils of Scottish home-rule and independence like a broken but never-stopping record since the 1970s.

 

Yes, there’s some attempt to present voices from the middle and moderate parts of the spectrum in the Scottish-independence debate too, like Alan Massie, Gerry Hassan and Lesley Riddoch, but with Brian and Brian as its two weekly bookends of doom, I find the modern-day Scotsman pretty difficult to stomach.

 

(c) The Guardian

 

The Scotsman was once a keen supporter, in its cautious and genteel way, of constitutional change in Scotland to allow the country more say in running its own affairs.  But then a tragic thing happened.  From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s Scotsman Publications were owned by the media, retail and property tycoons the Barclay Brothers, who installed as their editor-in-chief Andrew Neil, formerly Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenant in the UK and now a heavyweight political journalist with the BBC.  (I always thought Neil’s This Week programme, in which Michael Portillo, Diane Abbot and him would sit in a studio and discuss the week’s current affairs whilst seemingly indulging in a gruesome three-way mutual-admiration-orgy / flirtation-fest, was the most fascinatingly dreadful thing on British television.)

 

In newspaper circles back in the day, Neil was truly the man with the reverse-Midas touch: everything he touched turned to shit.  He was editor of the once-respectable Sunday Times in the 1980s, helping to turn it into the snide, shrill, right-wing shout-sheet it is today, and other publications he was involved with like the European and the Business suffered declining sales and finally closed.  Although Neil didn’t have anything to do with the Scotsman after it was acquired by the London-based Johnston Press in 2005, the newspaper remained on the right – where Neil had dragged it – and basically never recovered from the dose of journalistic syphilis it’d contracted from him during his tenure.

 

During the Barclay Brothers / Neil era, the Scotsman saw no fewer than seven editors.  By an odd coincidence, I’d vaguely known two of these short-lived editors from my educational years.  In 2000, the paper was briefly edited by Tim Luckhurst, who’d been a few years ahead of me at Peebles High School.  The lanky, curly-haired and lugubrious-faced Tim was a well-kent figure at the school, sloping around the place in a combat jacket and a T-shirt saying LEGALISE CANNABIS – in those permissive times you weren’t obliged to wear a school uniform – and to my mates and I he was known contemptuously  as ‘Chairman Mao’.

 

That Tim had to attend a lowly comprehensive school in the windy wilds of North Britain, full of horrible little oiks like myself, still rankles with the great man.  Writing for the Guardian in 2010 he quoted Ellen Wilkinson, Secretary of State for Education in Clement Atlee’s post-war Labour government, as saying of her childhood in non-selective schooling in Manchester: “The top few pupils were intelligent and could mop up facts like blotting paper, but we were made to wait for the rest of the huge classes…  We wanted to stretch our minds but were merely a nuisance.”  Tim noted sourly, “Thirty years later I experienced comparable misery at my Scottish comprehensive.”

 

I should point out that although it denied Tim the chance to stretch his fabulous mind and soak up facts like a first-rate sheet of blotting paper, Peebles High School did manage to get him into Cambridge University.  Incidentally, I recall a couple of years back chatting to a former teacher in Peebles, now a sweet little pensioner, when Tim’s name somehow cropped up in the conversation.  The teacher suddenly underwent a startling metamorphosis, hands becoming clenched and claw-like, face becoming dark and scowling, and blurted wrathfully, “Tim is just an ARSEHOLE!”  So the disdain Tim feels for his alma mater of the 1970s is perhaps mutual.

 

In fact, Tim is pretty good at burning his bridges.  He was once an advisor to the late Donald Dewar, the Labour politician viewed as ‘father’ of the Scottish devolution settlement and devolved Scottish parliament, but by 2001 he was demanding (in the Guardian again) that Whitehall should threaten the parliament, Dewar’s baby, with abolition.  That article was mild, though, compared with one he wrote for the New Statesman that same year, entitled Scotland Returns to the Dark Ages, in which he blamed devolution for releasing a tidal wave of evils like homophobia, sectarianism, misogyny, racism and, er, the banning of fox-hunting.  In the civilised days before devolution unleashed the Scots’ inner beastliness, he wrote, such things had been ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Actually, Tim, who also ran as a Labour candidate in the Scottish constituency of Roxburgh and Berwickshire in the 1987 general election, seems to have moved a wee bit to the right these days.  Before his current job (Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent) he spent seven years as political editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail.  Which was clearly the best place for him.

 

Tim’s successor at the Scotsman’s editorial helm was a petite English lady called Rebecca Hardy, whom I’d known at a later period – she’d been in a couple of my classes when I was a student in Aberdeen.  Bubbly, self-confident, cosmopolitan and, dare I say it, ever-so-slightly affected, Rebecca seemed a bit too disconcertingly exotic to a rough, uncivilised yokel like myself and I never got to know her particularly well.  However, in the dealings I had with her, she was civil enough and I don’t bear her any ill-will.  Later, at the Scotsman, she lasted as editor for less than two years before unpromising sales prompted Neil to show her the door.  All I can remember of her editorship was that she was reported as making some uncomplimentary remarks about performers at the Edinburgh Festival, referring to them as ‘luvvies’ and ‘Marxist trapeze artists’.  I can’t comment on the ‘Marxist trapeze artists’ bit, but I have to say that Rebecca herself was probably the most luvvie-ish person I’ve ever met.

 

The last I heard of Rebecca, she was working for the showbiz section of the Daily Mail.  Actually, it says a lot for how out-of-touch the Andrew Neil-era Scotsman was in Scotland – a country that’s famously anti-Tory and well to the left of popular opinion in southern England – that two of its former editors ended up working for the Daily Mail.

 

The question now is for how much longer the Scotsman can totter on.  Personally, I can’t envision it surviving far beyond tomorrow’s referendum.  Whatever way the vote goes, as one of Scotland’s major cheerleaders for continued rule from Westminster, it will after September 18th have outlived its usefulness.  I suspect Johnston Press will be tempted to pull the plug on the Scotsman’s life-support system before it reaches its 200th birthday in 2017.