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Editor-in-chief of The Scotsman stays schtum on editorial stance on Scottish independence

By Hamish Mackay

January 24, 2012 | 4 min read

The editor-in-chief of The Scotsman, John McLellan, has declared that his newspaper has no intention of stating its editorial policy on the issue of Scottish independence in the immediate future.

In his ‘Editor’s notebook’ slot in the paper yesterday, McLellan points out: “Three years to go till the referendum and politicians on either side are wondering when The Scotsman is going to ‘come off the fence’ on the issue.

“Three years to go, no-one knows yet who’s going to run it, whether it will be legal, who can vote, what the question or questions will be, or even if it will be a question at all, and we’re being asked for our position.

“When we know what we’re dealing with and we’ve heard all the arguments, we will come to a view. Maybe in just under three years’ time.

“Right now the important thing is the debate and our role is to help facilitate the ongoing public dialogue.”

McLellan also defended publishing last week the weekly column in The Scotsman by former journalist -SNP MP Joan McAlpine.

He explained: “Amidst the brouhaha about our columnist Joan McAlpine’s opinion that her political opponents were anti-Scottish in questioning the SNP’s referendum strategy, there was a view that we should not have published her article this week.

“But it would have been odd to say the least for a newspaper to suspend a columnist for having the temerity to express an opinion, no matter how extreme.

“Some readers believe that as she is an SNP MSP, we should not give her a platform at all. But as a senior aide to the First Minister, Ms McAlpine’s writing provides a valuable insight into the Scottish Government’s thinking.

“Freedom of speech also means having the freedom not just to argue but to be downright offensive. There may be consequences for the writer and publisher, but the ability to take the risk is something we should cherish.”

The Sunday Post observed this week that McAlpine …”appears to have found the transition to the rough and tumble of political life a bit of an eye opener ”, and quotes from a Scottish Sun interview in which the MSP admitted: “Everyone from all the other parties are so nice to you around the Parliament – until they step into the chamber. Then they get their knives out.”

The Sunday Post article added: “But she seems to have learnt her new trade quickly. Asked if she felt sorry for the MP Tom Harris who was forced to resign [from a Scottish Labour Party new media adviser portfolio] after making a spoof video about her claims that the unionist parties were anti-Scottish in trying to block a referendum, she replied:’What goes around comes around’.”

Gourock-born McAlpine began her career at the Greenock Telegraph and went on to work for The Scotsman and The Sunday Times Scotland where she won the Scottish Journalist of the Year award in 1999.

In 2000, she was appointed editor of the Sunday Times Scotland and the following year became deputy editor of The Herald - the first woman to hold that post on the paper.

After quitting The Herald and rejoining the Sunday Times Scotland as editor of the Ecosse section, she was one of the journalists made redundant when the paper scaled down its Scottish edition to save costs.

She was elected to Holyrood last May.

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