Iain Martin profile

By The Drum, Administrator

February 15, 2002 | 8 min read

Martin: a man and his medium.

I have to confess that I am a little disappointed. The UK\'s media mavins regularly portray Fortress Scotsman as an office beset by internecine strife and simmering resentment, but today the workaday reality seems surprisingly serene - just rows and rows of outwardly contented staff going about their business in a modern, airy workplace.

Despite the brutal pre-Christmas sacking of editor Rebecca Hardy after only 20 months in charge, there seems to be no lingering aroma of cordite. Neither are there secret machine gun nests or tank battalions patrolling Holyrood Road. The recently appointed editor, Iain Martin - contrary to the wishes of the media sceptics - is not in constant radio contact with the paper's embattled publisher Andrew Neil.

Having known Iain Martin from his first days at Glasgow University, he is exactly as I'd expect him to be - calm, collected and in control. He is also mildly amused by all the fuss that greeted his appointment last December when he became the Scotsman's sixth editor in as many years and, at 30 years of age, the paper's youngest ever editor.

"I don't really think my age is that relevant other than being an interesting detail," he says. "I have a clear vision of what I want to do and my ability to carry that out shouldn't be a function of the fact I am thirty years old. Certainly no-one here is dwelling on it."

Written off as a an inexperienced 'Tory-leaning boy', slighted as 'spotty' by Private Eye and dismissed as a 'Junior Paisley Buddie' in The Sunday Herald, Martin seems most baffled by the assessment of former Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst, who described him as a 'mini-me' of Andrew Neil, lacking the necessary gravitas to edit the paper.

He says: "I was surprised that Tim Luckhurst claims to know me well enough to have formed that opinion. I honestly couldn't describe him as anything more than a casual acquaintance."

Tellingly, there have been no damning assessments from Martin's former colleagues at Scotland on Sunday and The Sunday Times or from friends such as The Herald's Kevin McKenna.

"Anyone who has worked closely with me in the past will have no doubts that I am up to the task of editing the Scotsman," says Martin. In truth, any criticism of him or his predecessor cannot be disentangled from the widespread enmity for the paper's 'forthright' publisher, Andrew Neil. Martin, as someone who admits to enjoying the odd glass of Burgundy, will undoubtedly discern a powerful whiff of sour grapes the comments of his critics.

Despite Martin's easy confidence, he still confesses to being as surprised as everyone else when he was offered the role. "It came totally out of the blue," he says. "Behind the scenes, it was decided that the paper needed to move to the next stage of its development and I was identified as the person they thought could give it a go. Having worked here for the last four-and-a-half years, I've become acutely aware of the immense history of the office. It is not an opportunity you could have second thoughts about. When it came along I jumped at it."

Against this backdrop, Martin is an obvious 'unity' candidate; funny, kind and approachable, he is a self-confessed political animal who will initially 'drive more news into the paper' and return the Scotsman's focus to its traditional Edinburgh heartland and values. Martin's politics, a combination of liberal social ideas allied to a free market philosophy, are a softly pedalled antidote to the neo-Thatcherite rhetoric and regressive modernism of Andrew Neil. His line contains a subtlety more likely to chime with both the capital's movers and shakers and those who - valuing the Scotsman's heritage - would prefer to see the paper indulging in cultural contribution rather than incessant cultural critique.

"In the short term it is essential that we improve our coverage of Edinburgh. This has been characterised as me turning my back on the strategy of building the paper's circulation in the West, but I don't think it's wrong to insist that we take where we come from and where we sell most of our papers very seriously. It is right that as a starting point we should be looking to improve how we deliver news to our core readership." He adds, however: "I am from the West, my family are all there. I went to university there and I've lived and worked there for large parts of my life so anyone who suggests that I've turned my back on the West is clearly talking nonsense."

Displaying the aptitude for corporate politics that saw him identified as editor material at the age of 26, Martin is unsurprisingly reluctant to discuss the merits and demerits of his predecessor, his bosses or the sequence of events that led to him being installed in the editor's office. "I've always had a good working relationship with Andrew Neil and I can see no reason why that should change now," he says. "In terms of everything else, as I've said before, the past is the past. It is important that everyone here gets a clean slate and a chance to prove themselves. To be honest, although I have a definite idea of where the title should be heading, I haven't come to the job with prejudices or preconceptions because until recently I was very much preoccupied with the things we were doing at Scotland on Sunday."

Within Barclay House, Martin's promotion may have been greeted with surprise, but Hardy's impending departure was the stuff of conjecture amongst Scotsman staff almost from the moment she arrived from London. At Neil's behest, the cover price of Hardy's paper was slashed to 20p, and a TV ad campaign and competitions were initiated to garner new readers to an ambitious package that was strong on sport and features, but patently short on news and authoritative comment. The exercise cost £5m and although sales soared from 73,000 to more than 100,000 while the paper was discounted, they fell back to around 78,000 when the price went back up. At the same time, through a heady combination of strident right-wing rhetoric, leaden cultural comment and consistent attempts to undermine the efforts of Scotland's cultural institutions, Hardy succeeded in alienating everyone, from Scotland's financiers to politicians, architects and even country ramblers. With her abrasive management style she ultimately found little support on the editorial floor and the NUJ estimates that 40 staff as well as a legion of disaffected freelance writers and photographers abandoned the Scotsman during her tenure.

According to the Scotsman's former chief reporter, Ron McKenna, Martin's predecessor responded to the call from Neil to attend a meeting prior to departing for her Christmas break by joking: "Well, I'm not going to get the sack when I'm just leaving on holiday." It was simply the latest of a long line of occasions where Hardy misjudged events. According to one senior Scotsman source: "Not satisfied with waging a war of attrition against her staff, Hardy latterly appeared to be at war with herself. I think ultimately she lost all sense of why she was doing the job."

Martin identifies the contribution of operators like John Mullen, Kirsty Milne, Bill Jamieson, Joyce Macmillan and George Kerevan as important to the Scotsman's future. That will be music to the ears of the young news team at Barclay House, but while politics is Martin's trade, his wider tastes and interests ensure that other areas of the paper will not suffer.

As a student journalist at Glasgow University, Martin's career was shaped through writing profiles of John Smith, Margaret Beckett and Andrew Neil himself, but his personal tastes and fashion sense was informed by features-based lifestyle magazines like Arena and Esquire.

As a close friend of former Q and Smash Hits editor Johnnie McKie and contemporary of Chewin the Fat's Greg Hemphill, Martin is just as likely to be found discussing the cultural impact of The Stone Roses as he is to be mounting a reasoned defence for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

As a result, Alastair Mackay, a columnist without peer in Scottish newspapers, sportswriter Glenn Gibbons, Charlotte Ross, editor of S2, and Gillian Welsh at The Saturday Magazine could be the cornerstones around which Martin builds the paper's circulation once an initial period of stability has been achieved.

Though Hardy's reign must be viewed within the context of failure, Andrew Neil's sense of the changing dynamics of newspaper readerships might ultimately be proved correct. In appointing the former Daily Mail showbiz editor it could be said that Neil backed the wrong horse in the right race. With Martin he has the opportunity to build an accessible publication that can successfully communicate to a coalition of readerships without sacrificing the sense of balance and authority that has historically been the Scotsman's strength.

Having demonstrated the courage to appoint the relatively unproven Martin, it remains to be seen, however, whether the hands-on publisher will allow his clearly gifted editor to make the paper in his image.

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