A pro-independence Scottish national newspaper launch? Better Late Than Never!

The founder of the Caledonian Mercury and former head of digital for Yes Scotland, Stewart Kirkpatrick, reacts to news of a Scottish Daily pro-independence national newspaper being launched by Newsquest Herald & Times.

Better, I suppose, late than never.

While I wholeheartedly welcome the announcement of a new pro-independence daily newspaper, I can't help thinking that it would have been very handy to have such a thing six months ago.

You see, something like that six months ago might have had an impact on the independence referendum. Something like that six months ago could have had a political effect rather than be a vehicle for exploiting a commercial gap in the market.

Six months ago, I'd have been opening the champagne at this news. Sadly, I offloaded my collection of unopened champagne bottles on eBay on 19 September and that has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.

I am however very cheered to see Richard Walker's courage and vision rewarded. He took a risk in making the Sunday Herald the only newspaper to support independence - a baffling state of affairs given that just under half of us think independence is a good idea. And he found an audience that doubled his circulation.

He proved the concept the hard way and now Newsquest have OKed a new daily pro-independence newspaper.

It would have been nice if their other Scottish daily could have come to this conclusion in September but, hey, we move on. Kinda.

My initial reaction is so downbeat because it really hurt the Yes campaign that there was no daily mainstream media support for our cause. I was in charge of Yes Scotland's digital operation and we wiped the floor with the opposition. We were backed up by a huge creative movement of bloggers, commentators and filmmakers. We had tens of thousands of online activists seeding arguments in online and offline communities. But it still mattered enormously that the mainstream media gave the No campaign an easy ride. And that the resulting news agenda was followed by the broadcasters.

The resulting gaps in journalistic scrutiny have come into focus as all the various No campaign promises fall apart: from that "Vow" being swamped by English votes for English laws to shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde being in jeopardy, and so on and so tediously, predictably forth.

Enough moaning. This nation will do the indyref dance again. And I believe we will do it sooner than most people think. When we do, if the independence argument is to prevail then we need credible, professional news sources that can reach undecided voters. (And we need to win on social media again, but that's a different story.)

Given that, despite all my girning and greeting above, it's a wonderful and beautiful and a fantastic thing that Scotland is going to get a daily newspaper that believes that our country should actually be a country.

The journalist in me is salivating with excitement at the prospect of a new news outlet. A professional news outlet. A printed news outlet - a rare and mystical beast indeed.

But it's an interesting landscape that The National is stepping into. Those of us on the pro-independence side of things have not been idle. There are many new media ventures out there. Some are activist-based. Some are comment-based. Some are well-established, well-funded and read by huge audiences. (Wings Over Scotland, for starters, but also Bella Caledonia.) I myself am involved in a video news project dedicated to producing professional, mainstream news from a Scottish perspective. (More at http://ScottishNews.Scot.)

And there are others coming down the road. This landscape is full of challenge and opportunity.

The challenges mean it will not be enough for The National to wear a kilt or become a light version of the Herald with "Nat-pleasing" headlines. Its content will have to be better than that provided online for free elsewhere. Its approach to social media will have to be savvy and inventive. It's lucky, then, that its editor will be Richard Walker.

The opportunities faced by The National, if addressed properly, mean it could have a very exciting future indeed. Here is a publication with a guaranteed audience. Here is a publication born out of a very respected news brand. Here is a publication that can plug into an existing digital landscape that can nurture and support it. The National can either view the online initiatives around it as "just blogs" or as threats or as sources of the odd story. Or it can view them as allies, marketers and partners, perhaps even commercially.

There's a real opportunity here to link into and support and be supported by these emerging ventures.

As someone who has worked in online journalism in Scotland for 14 years, I am also spectacularly excited at the prospect of a newspaper "doing digital" the right way, in a manner that fully exploits all the wonderful opportunities offered by the internet in general and social media in particular.

Stewart Kirkpatrick (stewart@digitalmedia.scot) is a digital consultant, former editor of Scotsman.com and Caledonian Mercury and was head of digital at Yes Scotland.

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