The Scotsman’s stance on the Union will surprise some of you – Kevan Christie

Kevan Christie notes the lack of Elgar, jam roly-poly and Union Jack waistcoats in The Scotsman’s office – contrary to the picture painted by some on social media.
The Scotsmans office on a quiet Tuesday? No, believe it or not, this is actually the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London (Picture: Akira Suemori/AP)The Scotsmans office on a quiet Tuesday? No, believe it or not, this is actually the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London (Picture: Akira Suemori/AP)
The Scotsmans office on a quiet Tuesday? No, believe it or not, this is actually the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London (Picture: Akira Suemori/AP)

“Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,

How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?”

I am in no doubt that in the minds of some folk, The Scotsman goes to print every night to the strains of Edward Elgar’s classic Land of Hope and Glory as we all stand to attention and salute a giant picture of the Queen, having earlier filled our bellies in the ornate dining hall with the finest Beef Wellington, jam roly-poly with custard and all washed down with lashings of ginger beer.

We then retire to the pub for some frothing ale, before working out the latest ruse to bring down the Scottish Government and the IndyRef movement simultaneously while the ‘office junior’ is left alone to toast our muffins.

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But forget the Pomp and Circumstance, in this never-ending tartan version of West Side Story, the Nats and the Yoons never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. For the reality is somewhat different.

In the current climate of change for newspapers as we move from print to digital and cater for a new audience with different demands, there simply isn’t enough time to cultivate a cunning SNP-toppling plan, or to lay a trap for Labour. Agendas are not at work; good stories are.

A quick look around my workplace sees people of varying political hues and ages with two of the main topics of conversation being what we call Inane Football Banter (IFB) and “is it someone’s birthday?” – so we can have cake. There’s actually quite little political chat – we’re all too busy for that – and there’s not a Union Jack waistcoat to be seen.

We may not have the paper’s 200-year-old pledge of “impartiality, firmness and independence” tattooed on our foreheads, but I know of no reporter who has ever been asked to skew a story in favour of one political party or another.

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I don’t cover politics as health is my beat but no-one who works at The Scotsman can fail to notice the vitriol that pours our way from the pencils-up-the-nose, underpants-on-the-head online brigade. They live Beyond the Wall in that bitter hinterland known only as ... the readers’ comments section of most newspapers. The hardline supporters from both edges of the independence debate see us as either the sworn enemy of a go-it-alone Scotland or the last bastion of the Empire mounting a defence of Rorke’s Drift in the name of Albion. Mainstrean Media or MSM is the accusation flung our way from conspiracy theorists who believe that MI6 was behind the 2014 No vote victory and JFK was killed by Lord Lucan who made good his escape from the grassy knoll riding side-saddle on Shergar.

I would argue the ‘alternative’ media are now mainstream anyway, easily found on Twitter eagerly waiting to pile on the first person who steps outside the boundaries of their carefully constructed world view. I’m not complaining – I chose journalism as a career, one where people you’ve just met tell you that a) they hate journalists and b) they don’t read your paper. Thanks for your input, lovely weather we’re having, where are you summering this year? I now tell people who work in IT that I hate computers and never use them by way of revenge. Touche.

The truth is most journalists will go anywhere for a gig and it doesn’t automatically follow that you have to support the politics of the media organisation you work for.

But, on his first day in the job, our current editor Frank O’Donnell set his stall out to honour the spirit of our founding fathers by pledging that The Scotsman will not tell you how to vote. Not at council elections, general elections and not at any future independence referendum.

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A lot of the abuse towards The Scotsman stems from the perceived use of language that people believe undermines the Scottish Government, for example referring to them explicitly by their party name ‘the SNP’. This is seen as provocative and it could be said we don’t refer to the UK Government as Tories so that argument may hold water, although I’m told by one hard-pressed headline writer that SNP is often a handy shorthand given the limited space.

To label everyone on a paper as pro-Unionist is a bit wide of the mark. some are, some aren’t. The Scotsman’s main aims are finding the best news stories we can while providing a forum for debate, especially in the opinion section where you can find independence supporters like Kenny MacAskill, Lesley Riddoch and Joyce McMillan, along with Unionists like Brian Wilson and John McLellan. The aim is to inform our audience while striving to promote the best the country has to offer in terms of technology, the arts, sport and the food-and-drink sector to name but a few key areas, something I believe we do well.

But, of course, one of our main jobs is to hold the governments of the day to account and in modern-day Scotland everything seems political. The difficulties I’ve experienced in my dealings with the Scottish Government as a health reporter lie in what I believe is the polarised nature of politics. A direct question to the press office is too often ignored, with the answer focusing instead on how much the government has spent. It’s a bit like telling your partner “we’re out of milk” and they then explain that we’ve invested more than £40 on semi-skimmed in this fiscal year alone, instead of just asking you to buy some.

The Scottish Government knows the stark reality is that half of the country doesn’t want to hear anything about their shortcomings in the day jobs of health and education – dismissing that as “SNP bad” propaganda – while the other half bays for blood. Where the government is held to account is by their own supporters over issues like a separate currency and when IndyRef2 will likely be held. It’s easier for the opposition parties who are constantly in attack mode armed with ‘killer’ soundbites that rarely hit the mark. There’s little middle ground where the truth normally lives.

The danger of this for the media is that people seek out news that fits their agenda, then claim the providers are the oracle when they are in fact just singing an old song of “Hope and Glory”.