Why the National is So Awful

Glorifying Mancini while ignoring the Murrells won’t stop its slide

Debating whether the National should have run a front page mocking up the Italy manager Roberto Mancini as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace seems as pointless now as arguing over whether Billy Gilmour should have been picked to play against the Czechs at Hampden. Like our national football coach Steve Clarke, the editor of the National had to make a judgement call. But not a very tough one in Callum Baird’s case. His tiny, ragged editorial team – which has never been able to field anywhere close to 11 full-time members in its newsroom – had nothing to lose. Almost seven years since its launch, ‘Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper’ is normally invisible on the nation’s newsstands and can boast of only 12,000 digital subscribers among the five million-strong populace to which it yearns to bring Freeeedom!



With counter sales and commercial income having plummeted for publications across the planet due to the pandemic, Mr Baird really must have thought this could be his paper’s final hope – for survival. And there was next-to-no risk of alienating any significant number of loyal readers. This brash blatt’s main target audience has always been the blue-and-white woad brigade, the sort of primeval patriots who need their blood and soil nationalism watered on a daily basis. Damn few of them were ever going to be offended by a slightly risqué Anglophobic sales stunt during what folk in the newspaper trade call the silly season – and they’re a’ deid.

A far more deserving source of outrage is how the National responded to the huge story that broke less than 48 hours after England’s glorious defeat at Wembley – Police Scotland launching a formal criminal investigation into alleged defrauding of independence supporters by the chieftains of the Scottish National Party. Disgracefully, this seismic story did not make its front page the morning after it shook the land.


Were it applying anything close to proper news values (something it never does) the National would not have gone for Mr Gove in this print edition but for the SNP’s chief executive, Peter Murrell – who just happens to be Nicola Sturgeon’s hubby. Its main headline should have been:

WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO HIDE, MR MURRELL?

or

WHERE ARE YOU HIDING, MR MURRELL?

Had its editor been sufficiently bold (and journalistically principled enough) to do that, he would have shifted a helluva lot more copies of the National off Scotland’s newsstands – and had thousands more flocking to the paper’s usually pallid and tiresomely partisan website.

It really is depressing when one needs to buy a copy of the rabidly Unionist ‘Scottish’ Daily Mail to get proper in-depth coverage of the crisis now engulfing our governing party.


The Mail not only splashed that absolute belter across its front page, but devoted an inside double spread to a (sadly far too gentle) profile of Mr and Mrs Murrell which must have misled some dozy inhabitants of Middle Scotland into believing their marriage is semi-normal.


Hardly a good look for a party leader who stakes her reputation on transparency. But what is she supposed to do? Sack him? Have a quiet word at the breakfast table about his future in the party?

Jonathan Brocklebank, Daily Mail

Whilst salivating Unionists were feasting on all of this, readers of the National had to make do with a few crumbs of information as purposely bland as any official Police Scotland press statement – which is what its presentation of the story largely was.


Tucked away on page 5, this is what is known in the news trade as burying a story. Note the lame headline – missing the key word CRIMINAL – and how the pull-quote projects the party line.

Worse still, this skittery item wasn’t supplemented by a backgrounder explaining the cops’ decision to investigate or any opinion piece anywhere in the paper placing it in a wider political context. But readers of this rag were treated on the day in question to an interminable think piece by the ubiquitous Kevin McKenna crowing about the spectacular publicity goal the National had scored with its Mancini poster page.

Having worked as a senior editor on several of Scotland’s quality newspapers – when the word quality meant something – and having headed up several leading journalism schools across these islands, I could at this point engage in a long and learned disquisition about why the National is so awful. But it’s a glorious day and I want to go out in the sunshine so I’m going to confine my explanation to just two reasons: RICHARD and WALKER. As the founding editor of the National, he set the tone for his creation’s political coverage from the outset. It was this newspaper design wizard who ensured that its small platoon of scribes engaged in as much suppression of scandals on behalf of the Sturgeon regime as the Murrells’ own vast, superannuated army of spinmeisters. In fact, the National newsroom in Cambuslang (relocated from Glasgow city centre recently to cut even more costs) has often seemed like nothing more than a grubby adjunct of that propaganda operation.

Looking for something to watch? Just tap Watch on the top menu for pointers.

When the Sunday National was launched almost four years after its daily sister title, I sent an email to Mr Walker (someone I managed as the founding deputy editor of the Sunday Herald) telling him, with all the tact and diplomacy for which I am adored across the news industry, that it was shit and he’d better quickly get his editorial act together. Here is a short extract:

By far my main main disappointment was the political coverage, which seemed like a print version of an SNP party political broadcast. I completely get that you’re keen to hook your core target market…but the Sunday National cannot just ignore the storm clouds gathering above Scotland’s governing party and simply play to an applauding gallery. Now, more than ever, the SNP needs critical supporters.

Mr Walker replied promptly:

I take your point about the political coverage…It’s a tricky one because there’s more than enough criticism of the SNP in other newspapers and I know (because they have told me) that many of our readers find it difficult to accept continued attempts to criticise virtually everything the SNP does. So first we need to establish the context of our reports and that criticism is well-founded rather than knee jerk. I think we will do that over the coming months. Give us time.

Richard Walker and his pals got plenty time to make it better and they blew it – big style! As well as keeping close tabs on its readers’ donations to the indyref2 cause, the National could have provided compelling, penetrating coverage of the SNP’s uncivil war, which would have had Sturgeonistas and Salmondites alike spilling their porridge every morning. Instead, this poor, pathetic impersonation of a newspaper endeavoured to sweep both the Scottish trial of the century – and the biggest crisis at Holyrood since the advent of devolution – under a big, tattered, tartan rug. All the while recycling on its front pages SNP press releases about how indyref2 is imminent – if you just vote for Nicola once more!

No wonder its hacks command scant respect among even the lowliest SNP activists – as Richard Walker discovered to his sore cost when he relinquished the editorship of the Sunday National to seek to become the SNP candidate for Ayr in the recent Holyrood election. Bidding him farewell as he headed off to the political battleground, the aforememtioned Mr Baird rhapsodised:

Richard Walker is an inspiration – a genius newspaper editor…He has been nothing but a tireless campaigner for independence ever since I met him…If selected as a candidate and elected to the Scottish Parliament, we’re sure he would be a huge asset to the Yes movement at Holyrood, just as he has been here.

For some strange, inexplicable reason, members of the Ayr branch of the SNP weren’t swayed by that gushing testimonial. The “genius newspaper editor” lost out in his bid for the party nomination to some South Ayrshire councillor.

So, now you know why the National is so awful: its editorial philosophy, strategy and content were shaped in large part by a goofy gink who was never going to challenge our shady Nat chieftains. Then he had his beady eyes set on a cushy seat at Holyrood for himself – which he failed to secure after years of editorial punch-pulling. Now it’s far too late for the National or the National Party to retrieve their reputations for probity and trustworthiness. They’re going down together.

28 thoughts on “Why the National is So Awful

  1. I know how you feel, Jaggy. There are times that I have wanted to scream whilst reading the newspaper. I buy and read the hard copy from our local newsagent’s, and have thus far not been willing to subscribe, although this is the way that most newspapers are going, and I shall have to at some point, I daresay. I, too, find it tame and toothless, for the most part, and I feel that its management and ownership should be looking to the future when independent Scotland will require a hard-bitten style. Having said that, they are very good and always willing to take a punt on the most critical of letters. I suppose it takes the heat off them as the team, but lets the other, harder-nosed independence support also have its say, so I can’t criticise them for that. I do think that the present parlous state of the newspaper industry is the real culprit, that and the all-pervading virtue-signalling, self righteousocracy of non-substance and vacuity that we are living in today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The parlous state of the newspaper industry is the reason they really had to get their product right, Lorna. As for their policy on publishing letters, I think there are a fair few folk who could tell you what correspondence of theirs got spiked.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think a lot of the problem is that too much of the paper is given over to political figures within the SNP – and they are not going to veer away from the agreed agenda. The odd bung probably helps, too. I have to say that some of the stuff is excellent and hits the nail on the head, but some is pretty tame. Almost every newspaper these days relies on political celebrities and other types of celebrities to sell their product instead of investing in honest-to-goodness investigative journalism. So much of what is written by pet columnists carries skimmed-milk facts. As for spiking letters, I’m not sure how they choose, but I have had a few printed that were deliberately provocative and – I felt, anyway – hard-hitting. Maybe I’m flattering myself, Rob, and I’m just another tame wee wifie.

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      2. Yes, I was born to it, Rob. Unapologetically contrary, but, I hope, not in a pointless way. I once wrote in a very small way, and my spike was used for the items that were going to be used, not those which were going to be ‘spiked’.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I now rate the National as an SNP fanzine ; fanatics preaching to each other. The worst possible advert for what the media in an independent Scotland could look like? Ironically whilst the National only allows subscribers to comment, the much maligned Herald has no such rule and thus attracts equal numbers of yoony versus nat commentators, most of whom go off topic and engage in 1-1 personal rants! The Herald’s run this week on “secret Scotland” should be getting more coverage? Nearing bus pass age, I am beginning to think that indy may well be beyond my lifetime as there are so many negative issues within the indy movement that need to be resolved: Sturgeon/Murrell; no strategy; electoral franchise which is biased towards status quo; Brexit shambles; weak Parliament etc etc etc, never mind what obstacles Boris and crew choose to put in our way?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Spot on Rob, the National does read like a SNP fanzine, and as you say its petrified to dig any deeper on the SNP dirt of which there are mountains of. It specialises in finger pointing at Westminster, when its reality, its Sturgeon that’s stopping us leaving this rancid union.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent article again Rob.
    I couldn’t agree more with your closing statement. I will be flabbergasted and sick to my stomach ,if this latest scandal doesn’t rid Scotland of the utter fraud Sturgeon.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Apart from it being a Sturgeon apologist fanzine anyone who considers themselves to be an Investigative Journalist with integrity wouldn’t work there
    Also it has to have the most incompetent and frustrating website going with more glitches and freezes than anywhere apart from the herald

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David Pratt in the Sunday edition is usually worth a read, as are the historical articles by Hamish MacPherson on Tueasdays. It could also have taken a different angle to sport/football coverage but just runs the same articles as The Herald. Such an irony with the transferable bias towards the arch Unionist team and their pet writer – Chris “union” Jack.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t recall the National reporting this important story.

    So US big pharma has established a link with the current Scottish government, as well as multiple contracts, big pharma in the US all but call the shots on everything to do with health. Millions of Americans either can’t get health insurance or can’t afford it.

    I wonder are we heading in that direction, after Johnson sells out NHS England, and by default in Scotland in the up and coming US trade deal. If so Sturgeon will have already laid the ground work for the Americans.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. “to run the Scottish Government’s new public sector purchasing system.

      Why?????”

      Why indeed Rosemary?

      The “why” is that Nicola’s got her script to follow and like a good wee globalist she’s following it to the letter!

      Liked by 4 people

  8. I grew rather tired of The National’s tawdry attitude at journalism (most of their non-SNP press release stories seemed to be reporting what was happening on Twitter) about a year into its existence. I had noticed the cyclical nature of its front page story, and the same was true about the names of the contributors to its letters pages.

    Sure, they had some decent columnists, but Lesley Riddoch was the only one who was consistently worth reading. Paul Kavanagh’s column was a rehash of his blog, which is generally the same each day of the week but with slight variations of wording.

    As the ‘Yes’ paper, they more than most should be critical of the SNP, but they don’t bother. It really has been a wasted opportunity.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. to what extent do the intelligence services of the British state manipulate «Scottish Nationalism»?. How much of it is shallow posturing of the Braveheart variety or simply content to stick pins in Britannia’s rump like a naughty schoolboy by means of the few powers Westminster has vouchsafed to devolve and which it might reclaim at anytime.
    The possibility that the SNP has become a Britstate front organisation with little interest in pushing the independence cause to the very edge of the possible must cloud many a Scottish mind.
    With Alba party effectively in the bin rescuing the Scottish Nation from this game of mirrors will have to come from outside the political caste of functionaries and jobsworths.
    The one size fits all «no risk, chippy, constitutional, economic nationalism» is unfit for the task.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. While I agree with how awful the National is, this blog post reads like a vindictive personal attack on someone you have a grudge against.

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    1. Marty, I have nothing against Richard Walker personally. I do deplore how he squandered a glorious opportunity to give Scotland what it so desperately could do with right now – an intelligent, independent-minded, pro-indy newspaper that doesn’t peddle pro-SNP propaganda masquerading as news. I did acknowledge my former colleague is a newspaper design wizard and included a lengthy, gushing testimonial for him by the current editor of the National – a newspaper which rips into a whole host of targets on a daily basis. Richard Walker crossed over from the press to the political sphere so became fair game for what Scottish politicians of all stripes get on a regular basis – at least from those of us who comment forthrightly without fear or favour.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I think that most feminists would agree that gender IS a performance BUT sex/biology ISN’T . The agenda of trans activists seems to be to conflate/confuse the two.

      (I’m wondering who thought that this was the employment opportunity needed by young people in rural areas?)

      The ‘freeing’ from gender stereotypes might well be considered a socially acceptable aspiration but I thought that the Stonewall approach was that gender stereotypes were inescapable eg we are born with a ‘gendered brain’ no matter what our biological body presents as?

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  11. For Ottomanboi

    “With Alba party effectively in the bin ..”. Would you explain how you arrived at this conclusion please.

    Best Wishes
    Claire

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It failed to achieve its electoral purpose.
      The website speaks eloquently of that.
      It’s just the old sclerotic politics with a different label.

      Like

  12. Don’t forget their resident agent provocateurs Stephen Paton and Michael Fry whom they seem to bring out to troll the indy supporters weekly.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. The National would be more interesting if it had the wherewithal to report any news rather than nationalistic torybad political twitter gubbins. I presume it does Gleasgea fitba nae end like it’s their reason to exist, like radio scotland. Possibly with occasional golf. A newspaper that’s main selling point is a full-page pic of someone with a flag-painted face, with better sports reporting in the Metro. The Daily Record is way more intellectual. The National is for morons.

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  14. Sad that given the choice of the Press and Journal, the Metro, and the National, my choices would be the 1> P&J, 2> the Metro, and 3> National. ‘Scotland’s national newspaper’ is crap.

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  15. Good morning Rob and readers, yeah why is the National So Awful, was it ever thus this?

    It feels only right and proper now that the people at The National should rename their fanzine mag to ‘The New National’ as this is similarly what became of the ‘New SNP’ following the change to their current leadership. Unfortunately, the Original SNP no longer exists in any credible form and this appears to be confirmed and reflected by most of their party’s own politicians and the policies that they choose (or choose not to) progress.

    As others have commented above, I too find the navigation, presentation and general quality of The New National very amateurish, with excessive pop-ups and ads a constant turn off when trying to browse online. The fact that they also avoid reporting reactively to the bigger issues – if at all – speaks in greater volumes.

    I used to buy their hard copies in the early days, but not any more for a long time.

    Like

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