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The Sun Rupert Murdoch The Scottish Sun

Will it be 'The Sun wot won it' again? - Is Scotland's biggest selling newspaper about to back a Yes vote?

By Chris Boffey |

September 14, 2014 | 6 min read

When David Dinsmore, the Glasgow-born editor of The Sun, boarded last Friday's shuttle from London to Scotland he had a prepared answer for those who asked him how the paper was going to advise its readers north of the border to vote in the battle for independence.

"We are strictly neutral," he was overheard telling a friend on the flight. That simple answer may have been the truth at the time, and could still be true by polling day on Thursday, but it gave no hint of the massive tensions within Rupert Murdoch's best-selling tabloid.

Dinsmore's visit to Scotland was strictly business; his family have lived in the south for more than 18 months, after he was first appointed as managing editor then director of operations and in June 2013 editor of The Sun. Aware of Scotland's febrile election atmosphere he headed to Glasgow, the city where he cut his his teeth, to be Murdoch 's man on the spot, the steady hand on the tiller.

His job has not been helped by his mischievous boss, who in typical Murdoch style has been ruffling feathers by intimating in a series of tweets that voting yes might be a good thing for Scotland, if only to give David Cameron a poke in the eye.

Murdoch loves knockabout. Even though he is now a US citizen there is still a strong streak of the Aussie larrikin running through his veins, but in having Dinsmore in Scotland shows that the old warhorse knows the seriousness of the independence.

The Sun is Scotland's biggest selling newspaper, churning out nearly 250,000 copies a day, dwarfing even the Daily Record, the Mirror's Glasgow title by more than 40,000. What the Scottish Sun decides is important and the two sides of the debate have been hard at work lobbying its Scottish editor, Gordon Smart, and the political staff, but like every other workplace in Scotland the Sun is split by those who want to go it alone and this who want to stay together.

It is a passionate debate, ruled by the heart and not the head for many but when the Scottish Sun decides how to advise its readers there is only one criteria; what does Rupert want, and that means what is best for his newspaper empire.

The Scottish Sun has gone out on a limb before in exhorting its readers to vote SNP in the 2011 election for Holyrood after backing Labour in 2007, when it said that voting Nationalist was akin to putting the country's head "in a noose."

When Murdoch was asked at the Leveson inquiry if he had contributed to the decision to switch allegiance he replied: "I don't remember but probably yes. It is a little emotional, but I am attracted by the idea (of independence) but I am not convinced. So I said we should stay neutral on the big issue but let's see how he (Alex Salmond) performs."

By all accounts Salmond has performed well but that is just one part of the equation that will determine which way the Sun will jump. In heated internal debates questions have been asked about how the Sun could justify its stand against Northern Ireland leaving the union and backing Scotland to do the same.

The paper also prides itself on being the armed forces favourite read and it must take in consideration the ramifications of independence and defence. The Sunday Telegraph splash (pictured) said it all.

But the biggest consideration is the effect on circulation, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK. A poll in the Daily Mail on Saturday that claimed that seven out of 10 people in England think Scotland should stay part of the UK will be taken seriously.

The Sun, more than any other newspaper, knows that once a section of readers (we are talking Liverpool) take exception to newspaper coverage it can hurt circulation.

Dinsmore, being a Glaswegian, will also be well aware of the strength of the Orange vote in Scotland and 24 hours after his arrival in Scotland there was a large demonstration in Edinburgh.

Dinsmore is being lobbied by some his own staff to get the Scottish Sun behind the yes campaign pointing to The Scotsman plumping for the union as a marker, but there is a huge difference between that venerable institution from Edinburgh making a decision and the young upstart with its English upbringing.

Murdoch may don the metaphorical kilt with the talk of a 19 Century Scottish grandfather but he is US citizen, born in Australia making money in the UK. Murdoch will rely on Dinsmore's advice. Murdoch has been seen touring Scotland recently but it is symbolic that in one picture taken in a pub Dinsmore is in the background.

"David is pragmatic. He has not swallowed the Salmond bible nor been taken by the scare stories from Better Together," said a colleague. Inevitably, he will do what Murdoch wants but the old veteran will listen closely to his editor who us not only a fine journalist but has a degree from the Columbia Business School, one of the six Ivy League business schools in the US.

The safest option is to have a banner headline saying "Vote" and copy that reads: "Thursday is a momentous day in Scotland, one that will never be repeated. History will be made and the future of our proud nation decided. We urge every man woman and teenager who is registered to vote to go and make their mark in history. Your country needs you."

The Scottish Sun would not be able to emulate its Fleet Street big brother in saying: "It's The Sun wot won it" but it does have the value of not backing a loser.

And Rupert loves a winner.

The Sun Rupert Murdoch The Scottish Sun

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