Documentary telling the story of The Scotsman, one of Britain's most famous newspapers, and how over two centuries it has both reflected and shaped the nation.
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For 200 years, it's brought the world to Scotland
and has spoken for Scotland to the world.
The Scotsman is one of the most prestigious names in the world of
newspapers, in this or any other country.
Its editors have risked life and limb for its freedom.
Its reporters have been at the very centre of the country's great disputes.
Terrible, terrible arguments with each other.
Its writing has inspired and moved readers.
We could have played anybody when it came to reporting.
And the men and women behind the headlines have had some fun as
they've recorded history of Scotland.
Anybody who thinks that we exaggerate the drinking culture of
The Scotsman in the '80s wasn't there at the time.
Day by day, year by year, century by century,
Scotland's stories have been written across its pages.
But as it celebrates its 200th anniversary,
the circulation is falling and the paper is struggling to survive.
Whether in the current climate,
certain kinds of newspaper can survive as newspapers,
I have my doubts.
Now, it's more pressing than ever to tell the biggest story in town,
the story of The Paper Thistle.
The story of The Scotsman.
In terms of numbers, it will be just over...
Of a day, we are between 56, 64 pages.
So although there are questions that you'll have as to how you're going
to fill the space, the first thing you'll do in the morning
is line things up and have an idea.
OK, right, then,
we'll just take a quick run through those placings...
When big stories break it is...
It is very exciting and that is great and the adrenaline runs.
When it's at its worst, you're sitting there scratching your head saying,
"OK, I've got 56 pages to fill tomorrow and I'm not sure how this is going
"to work." And that's when it starts getting...
You want to start tearing your hair out.
Graham, do you want to tell us the sport?
Well, there's good stuff from Celtic today as well.
In The Scotsman newsroom, the pressure is to produce tomorrow's news today.
It's the speed now more than any other ability.
-Uh-huh, to be first.
-That is the important thing.
-To be first.
-To get a story, to put it online,
to put out on social media, that's really where the emphasis is.
But five floors below today's fast moving newsroom sits two centuries'
worth of stories in The Scotsman's astonishing archive.
200 years' worth of The Scotsman in this room...
..with a bit of light.
So round here we have the bound
copies of The Scotsman.
The most recent in this aisle, 1984 up to here.
But if we go right down to the bottom, we will get to 1817,
-the very start.
-200 years, 53,000 editions,
over one and a half million pages,
headlines big and small, happy and sad.
I can get lost for days in here.
Some of my colleagues probably wish I would but you can really become
immersed in so much that was going on at that time in history and some
of the stories are interlinked.
A glance through the bound editions reveals big stories that shook the
world, wee stories that didn't.
A picture archive full of lost moments.
First coloured policeman in Edinburgh.
Mr Laird Maclean, portrait of him, 1971.
And reports that bear witness to Scotland's history and,
if you read between the lines,
you can sense the commitment of the men and women who've written for
The Paper Thistle.
That's an important thing for the readers,
they say to us that you have an obligation,
you have a responsibility here to get this right because you're
-actually recording history.
-As editor, as custodian of that
heritage, you are very conscious of it and sometimes it's quite a
Since 1817, the reporters, the readers, the printers, the pages,
the country may have changed beyond recognition,
but there are still essential elements of The Scotsman that
the readers expect in every edition.
And like all good newspaper stories, it begins on the front page.
The front page is how The Scotsman announces itself to the world.
You're always looking at the front page,
you're trying to make that front page as dramatic as you can possibly make it.
You are on the stands along with 17 other newspapers,
how do you make people - if they're reaching up for one -
how do you make them reach for yours?
The answer is that front page has got to have things on it that are
going to try and sell it.
Under that famous masthead,
The Scotsman must splash the headlines in a distinctive way...
..every single day.
Front pages need big stories,
fantastic photos and attention-grabbing headlines.
I think you want something that projects the character of the paper
as well as telling the main story you want to tell.
I used to sit on the back bench
every night and look at the headline,
look at the design, look at the projection,
the picture on the front, and from time to time say, "Scrap that,
"let's start again." And everybody would moan and shoulders would slump
and you start again.
The Scotsman has had some stunning front pages over the years.
But on the very first edition of The Scotsman on January 25, 1817,
there was no splash.
Just a declaration of principles.
It announces itself as an insurgent newspaper.
Its claims of firmness, independence, impartiality,
are in a way intended to highlight how the other newspapers at the time
were not like that.
If you go back and you read through the first ten or 15 years of
The Scotsman, it is a very idealistic, crusading newspaper.
The paper was established by William Ritchie,
a Fife solicitor, and Charles Maclaren, a Customs man.
And the front-page news was that Edinburgh now had a paper of principle.
So much so that in 1829 when The Scotsman was slighted by a rival
publication, the Caledonian Mercury,
Charles Maclaren challenged its editor to a duel.
He's defending the honour of his newspaper because he feels that the
Caledonian Mercury have impugned that honour.
The Mercury eventually went out of print but The Scotsman flourished.
And over the decades,
the front pages have changed from radical to respectable,
from a clarion call to a commercial free-for-all.
Because from 1831,
the front page of The Scotsman was dedicated to classified ads.
Ads for operas, ads for caravans, ads for sets of false teeth.
For over a century, the classifieds were given pride of place.
Even the sinking of the Titanic couldn't push small ads from the
The Scotsman front page didn't change until the 1950s.
By then, small ads were what the well-to-do readers of The Scotsman
expected to see under the masthead.
And those readers didn't like change.
They liked their Scotsman to be predictable, constant, unsurprising.
The paper was actually dying on its feet and it was no wonder because it
was a boring newspaper.
Even worse, The Scotsman had accrued massive debts.
Unpaid death duties and a fall in circulation meant by the 1950s
it found itself teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
Nobody in post-war Britain had the money to buy the publication and
there were palpitations on Princes Street when the traditional
patriotic Scotsman was sold to a foreigner!
There was this brash Canadian and he was the last man on
earth I would have thought that The Scotsman management and Edinburgh
would have wanted to own the paper.
His name was Roy Thomson and his
main goal was to make a lot of money.
What's your recipe for this success?
By complete concentration and effort, one can go anywhere at all.
When Thomson first flew into Edinburgh in 1953,
Auld Reekie's great and good were unimpressed by the rich little Canuck.
He had a lot of money and no breeding!
He obviously hadn't gone to the right schools!
He was persuaded with difficulty not to bring an American Cadillac to the
streets of Edinburgh.
He just didn't understand the city.
But he understood business and he had big changes planned for
-The Paper Thistle.
-It's my pleasure.
He said, "The first thing I'd like to change is the front page,"
because it was full of small ads and he said, "Really, I mean,
"who wants to pick up their newspaper in the morning
"and the first thing they see is something that tells them to drink
"Andrews Liver Salts?"
And everybody looked at each other and said, "Oh!"
It took four full years for Thomson to persuade the journalists this was
a good idea. But finally on the 17th of April 1957,
Scotland's national newspaper put news across its front page.
And The Scotsman's been splashing ever since.
The news pages of The Scotsman were filled with the unglamorous business
of accurately and impartially reporting Scottish news.
If journalism is the first draft of history, then on some of Scotland's
darkest days, The Scotsman was there in the front row.
readers were gripped by the accounts of the gruesome trial
of Burke and Hare.
In 1916, it witnessed zeppelins dropping bombs on the Grassmarket.
In 1960, it described a tragic whisky bond fire in Glasgow.
When it came to street reporting,
we had people around who could do the job all right and there was a
point made about how vivid The Scotsman's reporting was.
And Scotsman reporters brought us one of the most earth-shattering
exclusives of all time.
Oh, I can't really think of anything of a scientific discovery that would
really change the whole way that you look on the globe and its history,
which was revealed in a newspaper.
This epic exclusive was unveiled in 1840.
A brilliant young geologist called Louis Agassiz had come to Scotland
and the editor of The Scotsman sent a reporter to accompany him to
He was then reported at gigantic length in The Scotsman.
These explosive reports, published BEFORE Darwin's theory of evolution,
implied that the earth had not been created in seven days, because the
scarring on the landscape must have been caused by ancient ice.
This really was very big shock to, you know,
the pious readership of Edinburgh and the Lothians.
There had been an Ice Age and this evidence in Scotland proves it.
2.6 million years after the event,
The Scotsman reporter was on the spot with breaking news...
The Ice Age - and it was the first paper in the world to reveal that it
-had happened at all.
-They're quite difficult to read now and it was
boring but nonetheless, they represent
what one would call a scoop of gigantic scale -
The Scotsman's biggest scoop,
the Ice Age.
But for most of its history,
The Scotsman's news pages have been less mind-blowing, because the paper
prided itself on being Scotland's paper of record.
Whenever there was a committee meeting, a public speech, a civic soiree,
it would be entered into The Scotsman's desk diary.
This great big red book,
I remember, it was like a kind of Bible,
you know, and the things that have to be covered.
Any Scottish MP who spoke in the House of Commons
would expect a paragraph
or two in The Scotsman the next day or would want to know why not.
Reporters were allocated stories from the desk diary and duly
recorded what happened. No matter if it was newsworthy or not.
The first job I was given in
The Scotsman was to cover a cage-bird show.
I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time at Lothian Regional
Council's Drainage Committee.
I knew an awful lot about the drainage problems underlying the
City of Edinburgh.
This commitment to cataloguing every spit and cough of every civic
committee meant the news pages could be uninspiring.
I think some of the stories probably were quite boring but The Scotsman
felt it had a duty to cover certain things.
By the 1970s,
reporters began to rebel against the diktats of the desk diary.
One of the subs got very drunk late on and wrote right across the next
day's diary page, "When are you..." - bad word -
"to try and produce some real news for once?"
In the end, events overtook the events diary.
As the 1970s and '80s progressed,
the news agenda elsewhere pushed the utterings of Edinburgh blazers and
committee men to the margins.
I was at the graveside when the funeral of the Gibraltar Three,
the IRA terrorists, was attacked by a loyalist gunmen throwing grenades.
They sent me to Glasgow.
In Glasgow there was news, there was hard news, there was real events,
there was murders, there was gang wars,
there was disasters on a scale -
a hard news scale - that didn't happen in Edinburgh.
It could get quite hairy.
This was real seat-of-the-pants stuff.
It was a notebook, a pen, no mobile phones and it was... It was great,
I mean, it was exciting.
And the pressure to cover every aspect of Scottish Civic life was
put to rest in the late '80s,
when Magnus Linklater was appointed editor.
And one of the first questions he was asked by staff was if he
saw The Scotsman as a paper of record.
My immediate answer was no, and I remember the intake of breath
from the assembled company.
I thought the newspaper ought to be a newspaper campaigning,
investigating, reporting in depth.
That was far more important than this long-standing tradition of
being a newspaper of record.
It wasn't about quantity of news, it was about quality - the tone,
the understanding, and what was expected,
particularly in traumatic times for Scotland.
Someone interrupted the conference and poked his head round the door
and said, "There's been a shooting in a school in Dunblane."
Now, we had no idea, I had no idea, the magnitude of that story.
It could have just been somebody was wounded.
But as we began to realise what was happening, and we had to say first
of all to the staff, "Right, here are the rules.
"Report the facts, keep everything as straight as possible,
"be sympathetic to whoever is out there."
And then we had to find out who knew what and cover every base you
possibly could, as sensitively as you possibly could.
Readers expected The Scotsman to cover the big Scottish stories with
both understanding and hard-headed, in-depth analysis.
But The Scotsman also had to be national and international.
In the '90s, the paper recruited a network of correspondents in war zones.
And they'd call Andrew McLeod on the foreign desk and provide eyewitness
accounts of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and, on one harrowing occasion,
I do remember a call.
He'd just see these things and he would run through them pretty
breathlessly, what he had just seen,
and one time he phoned and he said "Andrew, I've just been in a house."
And I said, "Yeah." "And it was dark,
"I walked into the room and, erm..."
He said, "...it's... I thought, 'Well,
"'the water pipes must have burst,'" he said, 'in the battle,'
"because it was all wet."
And he said, "But it wasn't water," he said, "It was...
"It was squelching with blood, the floorboards,"
"the blood was coming up through the floorboards." He said, "There'd been
"a massacre in there." And outside, he'd found the bodies of a father and son.
At its best, the news pages of The Scotsman brought first-hand accounts
from a dangerous and increasingly complex world to the safety of
breakfast tables across Scotland.
It's important to witness it.
You're not a complete newspaper unless you're covering everything.
That's my view. And if you're not covering foreign news,
in my view, you're not a newspaper.
But newspapers have never been just about the news.
A friend of mine once said that a
newspaper is a formatted set of surprises.
And I think it's a magnificent description.
In its very first edition,
The Scotsman declared itself a political and literary journal.
And to be the newspaper of Scotland's chattering classes,
The Scotsman must deliver provocative pages of artistic
and literary chatter.
The arts pages were the throbbing heart of the paper and to have
good critics, good reviewers, was imperative.
We run, I think,
probably the most comprehensive Edinburgh Festival coverage
of any newspaper.
I think there have probably been days when I've submitted 14 or 15 reviews.
Whilst the arts pages celebrate what's in the spotlight,
Scotsman features try to get behind the facade, to reveal
hidden sides to familiar people and places.
Your dream Scotsman Magazine story might be At Home With JK Rowling,
where she shows you all her latest work and tells you exclusively
what she's working on next and reveals how much she loves
the paper, that sort of thing!
But many features are longer stories that evoke a time and a place.
For example, what was it like to get a job on The Scotsman in its heyday?
Well, I was a student down in Cambridge and I heard that The Scotsman had
a last-minute vacancy, and in those days the best way up was the
night sleeper. I was in the cheap one,
which meant that you shared a compartment.
There were two bunks. I arrived on the bunk and there was a guy sitting
in his underpants, literally, and a string vest, and he had one of those
great big multipack cartons of Special Brew and a thick,
thick fug of cigarette smoke.
He looked up and he said, "Eh, sir,
"I hope you're not one of they, 'Oh, I don't like to smoke,
"'I don't like to drink,' or one of they kind of student poofs, are ye?"
I said, "No, no, of course not."
And so I sat there and smoked maybe 300 or 400 cigarettes and drank
maybe a dozen cans of Special Brew rather than sleeping.
So I arrived in Waverley Station the following morning smelling like a
kipper, red-faced, bleary, blotchy, hair all over the place,
eyes bright scarlet and I had an early-morning interview at The Scotsman.
And I went down to the newsroom and opened the door
and there staring at me, about 20 or 30 people who looked worse than
I was. And I thought, "I've come home."
Home for Scotsman journalists was the famous North Bridge offices.
Purpose-built in 1905, it was a legendary place to work.
The building was festooned with tubes.
It was noisy, it could be quite sweaty at times.
You have to think of a very,
very strong smell of bodies and cigarette and pipe smoke.
And there's lots of inky-fingered people wandering around in boiler suits.
Down at the bottom, opposite the back of the station,
you had the printing presses.
Above that you had the case room where the typesetting was done.
Above that you had the newsrooms.
Above street level it became, you know, accountants,
advertising and the people running the place,
managing director's office would be on the top floor.
If the building was eccentric, so were the occupants.
The building itself lent itself to people being able to disappear
and we had people, for example,
who had separated from their partners, who were actually living
in the building. We had people who had retired but refused to be
retired and used to come into work every day.
MUSIC: Just Can't Get Enough by Depeche Mode
And no wonder.
As there was one journalistic stereotype that ran very true.
Anybody who thinks that we exaggerate the drinking culture of
The Scotsman in the '80s wasn't there at the time.
It was pretty extreme.
Drinking in those days was, you know, a completely tolerated thing.
Nowadays, you know,
the idea even that somebody might have a glass of wine would be seen
-as rather louche.
-There was certainly no opprobrium attached to the idea
you've gone for a couple of pints during your break.
I was taken to lunch by an editor and, you know,
there was a drink before lunch,
there was two bottles of wine at lunch, and as we came up Cockburn Street
towards The Scotsman office, he said
"Well, we'll just pop into the Malt Shovel
"and see what the malt of the day is."
As a young reporter, I would expect to be in the Jinglin' Geordie
virtually every day by midday, and I would expect to drink, sort of, five or six pints
and then a fair amount of wine and possibly tequila, and then come back
and do my afternoon's work.
We would often go to the Doric and
consume a ridiculous amount of alcohol
over lunchtime, discussing the
paper and maybe entertaining contacts.
And then go back and try to focus on
two fingers not getting stuck in the typewriter, as it was.
And the first thing that you learned was to be able to produce apparently
lucid copy in a state of almost catatonic drunkenness.
Was it a good thing? Probably no.
But is it a good thing to be sitting stuck in front of a computer screen
nonstop for ten hours, hardly ever speaking to another person,
without going out and meeting people and making contacts?
I think that's even worse.
The Scotsman first launched a women's page in 1925,
which was called Woman To Date.
Over the years, there have been various pages for the ladies,
but precious few women in the building to write them.
The women's page, well, there weren't very many women.
The Scotsman was very much male-dominated.
Throughout the 1950s and '60s,
male editors largely expected the woman's page to be a formulaic rote
of recipes, fashion and domestic delight.
And on the rare occasions when they took any interest,
it confirmed that Scotsmen were from Mars
and Scotswomen were from Venus.
Alastair Dunnett was asking what we had for the women's page that night and he said,
"I like that but what I don't want...
"I don't want simmets."
And I said, "Oh, I see."
So I went back to the girls on the women's page and said,
"He says he doesn't want simmets!"
And I think he meant he didn't want parochialism.
We thought that might be it but we weren't very sure!
By the 1970s,
female hacks began to escape from the good housekeeping ghetto of the
women's page and brought a very different sensibility to
The Scotsman reporting role.
Margaret Thatcher swept into the room, sat down...
I seem to remember I was the only woman at that press conference,
literally, the only woman there and eventually I put up my hand and
asked her, "Well, what do you think about the current movement for women's rights
"and should there be more women in the House of Commons?" blah,
blah and she said,
"I hate the expression women's lib," which I'd never used anyway,
and she went on to denounce women's lib because it made women who stayed
at home bringing up their children feel inferior. And so the
conversation continued and then she kind of cut me short, saying, "But, you know,
"enough of that, we'll bore the men."
By the 1990s,
The Scotsman realised it was having trouble attracting Scotswomen.
Radical thinking was required.
The guys upstairs were noticing that women readers were peeling away from
The Scotsman and they concluded they needed to do something,
but they didn't know what it was.
Sitting in an editorial board of 13 people, of which I was the only woman,
it seemed kind of obvious to me.
So finally one day I kind of cleared my throat and said,
"What about this idea?"
The idea was The Scotsman would have a sex change for
International Women's Day, to rechristen the paper The Scotswoman.
To my astonishment,
at least half the guys on the board totally agreed with it straight off.
The idea of it was to say that who edits a paper dictates, very largely,
its agenda, its outlook, the stories it selects, all these things.
The Scotswoman was published on the 8th of March, 1995.
All the editorial decisions were taken by women.
The splash focused on equality.
It had a tokenistic men's page.
And The Scotswoman made headlines all over the world.
I got phone calls with each time zone that woke up,
so I stayed up all night.
There was a bit of a feeling of triumph.
It was the highest-selling edition of that decade.
We, for donkey's years, have been buying The Scotsman.
It should be more for women, why not? Why The Scotsman, eh?
And then I appeared in The Scotsman, the meeting,
the normal morning meeting,
and I remember the editor of the day turned to me and said,
"Well, yesterday was all right.
"Henry, do you want to go through the sport?"
For 200 years, Scotsman readers have been writing of their disgust, joy,
praise and delight to the editor of The Scotsman.
I turn to the letters page, which is very important,
where a great deal of steam emanates from that page.
We do publish letters that we don't agree with - we always have.
Again, that's a founding principle of the newspaper.
To read a newspaper is to participate in the conversation.
This is part of our national conversation, that's why it's so important.
History has been made on The Scotsman's letters pages.
correspondents arranged the world's first international rugby match.
And during the First World War,
The Scotsman published letters from the trenches that gave eyewitness
accounts of the Christmas truce of 1914.
Some letters are more critical.
And some never made it to the editor's desk.
The letters were put in this wire basket behind the back bench and I
certainly know of at least two occasions when a journalist went through
that day's letters and saw somebody complaining about him, you know,
one of the reporters, or one of the specialists, just took the letter out,
crumpled it up, and threw it away.
That was, in a way, how things worked, you know!
Sometimes complaining letters did get through but were banished
for other reasons.
One of the letter writers that I had to keep at bay was my mother,
who was the SNP agent in Orkney and used to write
ferocious letters criticising The Scotsman's stance and I had to put a
moratorium on that -
I thought it would not actually look very good if I had my mother writing
to the paper.
Some readers have spent their lives writing to The Scotsman, and in one
case beyond a lifetime.
In 2015, David Fiddimore,
a regular correspondent facing a terminal diagnosis,
wrote a final missive to The Scotsman, requesting that it be held
until after his death.
When he passed away, his last love letter to the paper was published.
But when you send a letter to the editor of The Scotsman,
just who are you writing to?
There have been 26 editors of The Scotsman in the past two centuries.
Ten in the past 20 years.
Whenever I do go out to anything and meet people,
everybody knows The Scotsman,
everybody has a view as to what I do right and what I do wrong.
Many of them are not slow in coming forward in telling me what I'm doing wrong.
In two centuries of The Scotsman,
there have been two editors who have changed the readers' relationship
with the paper.
The first was an old-school newspaperman who almost nobody outside the
North Bridge building has ever heard of,
but was a legend amongst journalists.
His name was Eric MacKay.
Eric Mackay was the journalists' favourite editor.
Eric Mackay came from the North East and I always thought of him as being
hewn from a granite quarry somewhere in the North East because he had a
solidity and a kind of immovability that was remarkable.
He was pretty monosyllabic.
Occasionally, if he heard an interesting piece of gossip,
he'd say, "Ah, get away!"
You know, "What happened?"
My goodness, he cared about that paper and he knew every word that
-appeared in it.
-Mackay became editor in 1972 and for 13 years he cajoled
and supported his journalists.
He said a lot of great things,
the sort of things you wanted an editor to say to you.
When the miners' strike really kicked off,
he called me in and said,
"Look, the coverage over the next few months is bound to be dominated,
"the news coverage, by the coal board setting the agenda and we'll
"be going to the NUM for reaction.
"What I want you to do is to go out to the mining communities and the pits
"and get the miners' stories and make the coal board react,
"so we get a bit of balance."
Throughout the 1970s and into the early '80s,
Eric Mackay was at the helm in what was seen as the golden age of
And the readers appreciated it.
Under Mackay's leadership during that political period,
the paper put on a vast amount of circulation.
It peaked at one point at just over 100,000,
because it was so tuned in to
what was happening with Scottish society.
And even when a journalist dared to disagree with the legendary editor,
Mackay handled it with delicacy.
I sort of felt that I was due a little more money, so I would go in
on a number of times and have a chat with Eric about money,
and he had this way
of looking at you - "I hear what you're saying,
"leave it with me." And at that your shoulders sagged and you realised
there's not a hope in hell of getting another brass farthing out
of the organisation, you know.
He did it beautifully and I didn't lose trust in him.
After nearly 13 years in the editor's chair,
Eric Mackay retired in 1985.
Chris Baur took over, but it was a difficult moment to be the editor,
because the management were determined to change pay and conditions,
even if that meant a conflict with their journalists.
MUSIC: Chance by Big Country
We turned up for work one day and the doors were barricaded,
we were locked out, it was an old-fashioned Victorian lock-out.
I had a choice to make because I was technically editorial management but
I couldn't bring myself to support the management management of that paper
and I guess I thought there was a better class of people in the picket line.
We could go across the close, Fleshmarket Close,
up to the offices of the agency, United News Service, and peer across
through the windows and see, in what had been my room, the features room,
a makeshift newsroom being operated by people we didn't recognise,
bringing the paper out day after day, while we were locked out.
I remember I was standing outside the staff entrance of The Scotsman
the first time that I had been designated to be one of that day's pickets and
up these steps from Waverley Station came a number of people who worked
for The Herald who
were coming home - they lived in Edinburgh,
worked for The Herald in Glasgow,
and they were coming home off the train and as they passed,
they pressed bottles of drink into our hands as a nice gesture
To the dismay of striking journalists, The Scotsman,
albeit thin and of a poor standard,
was hitting the streets every day and eventually,
the hacks had to concede.
And we went back with our tail between our legs.
Our conditions were quite savagely attacked.
Longer hours, changes to the working week,
effectively pay cut, and quite a lot of recriminations.
It was a horrible time.
In 1987, dispute about budget,
pay and conditions went to the very core of the paper.
Thomson Regional News specialised in regional papers,
but The Scotsman saw itself as a national paper.
Thomson Regional Newspapers never got it at all,
they never got Scotland in the least.
They just kept saying,
"Well, why can't you just share Parliamentary services with the
"Middlesbrough Evening News, for example?"
Presenting The Scotsman as Scotland's national newspaper has
always had one flaw - the West has traditionally favoured the Herald.
Dundee has the Courier and there's the Press and Journal in the
North East. But when Magnus Linklater became editor in 1988,
he thought he could tackle that head-on.
I remember once trying to build our Glasgow circulation by sending out
invitations to all the leading businesses in Glasgow to take
six weeks' free subscription to
The Scotsman and there was nil take up.
I mean, the Glasgow businessmen,
some of them not only refused to take up the free offer,
some of them took the trouble to write back saying, "I wouldn't have
"The Scotsman in my office if you paid me."
So, there was a complete division, really, but we didn't recognise that,
we regarded ourselves as a Scottish national paper.
But even the management weren't convinced that The Scotsman was
indeed the country's national paper.
When I was fired -
and I think it's a bit of a badge of honour to be fired as an editor -
I fell out with the management,
I think, largely because I still regarded
The Scotsman as a national paper
and I think they felt that that was an expensive item and it should be a
regional paper, which would be much cheaper.
MUSIC: Movin' On Up by Primal Scream
Thomson Regional News sold The Scotsman to the Barclay brothers.
Frederick and David Barclay were twin-brother billionaires who lived
as tax exiles in the Channel Islands and had a burning desire to own a
And they invested in The Scotsman,
buying a brand-new home and providing extra resources.
They were determined to give it the power to fight on that stage and to
win on that stage.
We had the money to do international affairs properly,
to expand The Scotsman's coverage of Scotland.
It was a tremendous time to be there.
But the Barclay brothers were also notoriously publicity-shy and so
needed someone experienced, who was comfortable in the spotlight,
to steer The Scotsman.
And they made possibly the most controversial appointment in the
history of the paper,
making Andrew Neil editor in chief.
I'm here to spend money, I'm here to invest in the journalism,
I'm here to invest in the marketing of our papers.
Andrew Neil was a former editor of the Sunday Times,
a devout Thatcherite,
whose autobiography described the Scottish media as
"largely old-fashioned, left wing".
He claimed that Tony Blair hoped his appointment would help bring
Scottish political opinion into the last decade of the 20th century.
I mean, it's going to be a wonderful, feisty time, you know,
here's a dynamic guy,
coming back to Scotland at a time where three papers
are doing remarkably well,
and we want to take them forward and upward,
and what better guy to do that?
By the 1990s,
tartan editions of the big English dailies were impacting on the
circulation of Scottish newspapers.
The new editor in chief had a fight on his hands.
Working for Andrew is a tough experience.
He had these huge ambitions for the newspaper and he didn't see why we
couldn't be better than Fleet Street.
If you had him in a newsroom, you know,
you could see why he had such a formidable reputation.
He basically asks his staff to jump to the moon and you kind of think,
"That's crazy, we can't jump to the moon."
But you end up jumping higher than you ever thought you could jump.
In an interview, he compared old Scotsman journalists to carthorses
and declared they would be replaced with, "frisky young stallions and mares."
He didn't mind offending people like that or challenging shibboleths.
He cut the cover price.
Star columnists were appointed.
By August 2000, circulation had
risen beyond the magical 100,000 mark.
Andrew Neil, who remained in London,
held a champagne reception at The Dorchester.
But not everyone was inclined to raise a glass to the editor in chief
and his bold, new vision.
I was spiked for three months.
That is, everything you write is not published.
I had a weekly column, it was spiked every week.
I came under a lot of pressure to
publish everything that George Bush said, no matter how irrelevant.
And it wasn't just staff.
Andrew Neil seemed to relish winding up civic Scotland.
If he thought the schools weren't good enough,
he would really criticise the teachers' unions and the sort of,
the consensus which still governed Scottish education,
even if that annoyed a lot of the teachers,
who were obviously a big part of The Scotsman's readership.
He started writing about why the Educational Institute of Scotland
was all wrong to be going on strike,
they were a bunch of big girls' blouses and
should get back to work and do what they were told.
And when you alienate a constituency like that, it lets you know.
He was right about a lot of things, you know -
he was right that the education system wasn't as good as we thought
it was, for example.
The problem was that if you wanted to persuade people,
bring them onto your side,
that wasn't going to happen overnight.
Andrew didn't have the patience for that evolving.
He wanted to say, "Listen to me, wake up,
"you know, get a grip, get involved in this."
Eventually, the regular readers in Edinburgh began to get the sense
that under Andrew Neil, their paper didn't love them any more.
I remember the phrase being used, you know,
"We must tackle the Scottish establishment."
But actually, The Scotsman WAS, in a sense, the Scottish establishment in,
I think, the best, best sense, you know,
it represented the majority view of its readers.
I remember hearing somebody saying,
"I'm stopping reading The Scotsman now, it's The Herald from now on."
By 2002, more and more readers were deserting The Scotsman.
And in The Scotsman newsroom,
it was a chaotic and confusing time as the paper went through eight
editors in nine years.
We've had very shouty editors, we've had less shouty editors,
we've had calmer ones, we've had mad ones.
It changed quite a lot and it didn't matter as much because Andrew Neil
was effectively editor in chief, but it's a sign of turbulence for any
publication if it loses so many editors.
The journalists were unhappy.
The circulation began to fall.
The Scotsman changed from broadsheet to tabloid - I mean, compact.
Then, in 2005, ten years after they'd arrived,
the Barclay brothers and Andrew Neil left town,
selling The Scotsman to its current owners, Johnston Press.
When the Barclays bought that company for 90-odd million,
including the building,
they sold it for 160 million without the building.
It was a phenomenal success.
The Andrew Neil years were over, but his legacy remains contested.
Critics feel that the once-loyal readers lost faith in their paper
and it was the beginning of the end of The Scotsman...
I think Andrew killed The Scotsman.
..whilst believers point out that all Scottish papers declined and
The Scotsman's market share went up.
Did this kind of abrasive tone served to undermine The Scotsman?
And I think the answer there is, just look at the figures - I mean,
this is a paper which while he was overseeing it broke the 100,000 mark,
and after he left, the sales really started to go down.
He was just a guy in a hurry and that wasn't going to work, actually,
in Edinburgh, which has a fantastically...
A fantastic ability to be resistant to anything somebody wants them to
do, if they don't want to do it.
He attempted to take The Scotsman and twist it politically right round
towards a fiercely Unionist and Conservative point of view and while
twisting it round, he just broke its neck.
For over a century, The Scotsman's news, arts, editorial, letters,
features have been coloured by the question of Home Rule.
It's not a new question.
Independence, here we come!
The national question is one that has dominated coverage over
100 years at least.
If you go back to the 1940s, the 1920s,
it's there as well and The Scotsman was there in the thick of that and
you have to be - you've got to be -
because it's about Scotland's future and if The Scotsman newspaper isn't
about Scotland's future then what's the point in the newspaper?
In the 1979 referendum for a devolved administration,
The Scotsman was the Scottish paper who took up the cause with gusto.
Its position in the '70s was very different.
It was seen as being bold.
It gave the paper a purpose,
which is in many ways very good, you know,
we had something we were fighting for and we believed in.
And from the Unionist side of the argument,
or those who didn't want an assembly in Edinburgh,
The Scotsman was seen as the enemy.
But when the results came in...
and Scotland was denied an assembly, the paper was heartbroken.
People were pretty dispirited.
We maybe got it wrong and maybe we were out of touch with the mood
elsewhere in Scotland.
The morale at the paper just collapsed.
I remember on the day of the referendum,
talking to Tory MP Teddy Taylor and he said, "I was thinking of
"coming to North Bridge and standing outside
"and waving a Union Jack outside the office,
"what do you think would happen?"
And I said,
"Teddy, I think Eric Mackay himself might come and throw you off the bridge."
For the next 18 years,
political power was concentrated in London, and civic Scotland
vented its political frustration on the pages of The Paper Thistle.
I think there was a sense, you might say, we had a conceit of ourselves,
that we had almost a constitutional role at that time.
There was no parliament and particularly after the 1979 referendum,
Scotland was kind of off the agenda.
Thatcherism was in full flow and I think we all kind of felt that we
were the guardians of Scottish debate.
It wasn't until 1997, when New Labour were elected, that Scotland
was granted another referendum to re-establish a parliament in Edinburgh.
And this time the people of Scotland and the national paper of Scotland
spoke with one voice.
The Scotsman said yes to both questions.
It was most eloquently for it.
After a long history of arguing for a parliament,
when it was reconvened in 1999,
the Andrew Neil-era Scotsman was relentlessly scathing.
It's certainly the case that there was no cosying up to the Labour guys
who were in power at the time.
And the biggest scandal of devolution,
the saga of the Scottish Parliament building,
was unfolding right in front of their noses.
You could argue that The Scotsman didn't go hard enough on that debacle.
They let it go far too long without getting stuck into it and it was
actually happening on their doorstep.
You just had to walk across the road and look at the building site and
there it was. And you could see things were going wrong.
In the new millennium, the parliament found its feet.
Moderate political power in Edinburgh had been secured,
something The Scotsman had been advocating for over a century.
But now it was the paper itself that was looking vulnerable.
By the time the 2014 independence referendum came around,
The Scotsman had lost about half its readership.
At a time when the paper couldn't afford to lose more readers,
it was required to choose a side in a passionate debate.
Would the self-proclaimed national paper of Scotland join the chorus of
voices calling for Scotland to become an independent nation?
I gave it a lot of thought and I decided that I had to be the one who
wrote the leader, and to get peace I got up at five in the morning and
came into the office at five in the morning and sat in the empty office,
with a blank screen, for three or four days and hammered it out.
And it took a long time to write, it took a long time to agonise over,
it took a long time
because there were many different things,
many different parts of it that you had to think about.
Because I was really conscious that it had to appear right,
that I had to maintain the authority, because it wasn't my position,
it was The Scotsman's position,
so you're trying to maintain the authority and the credibility and, yeah,
I've never felt that more than I did that night.
Scotland's national paper, based in Scotland's capital,
And with the debate so passionate and the country so split,
it was inevitable that many of those who were sympathetic to
The Paper Thistle felt betrayed.
The Scotsman seemed to be standing against the tide,
and I think it was a great shame, you know,
for The Scotsman of all papers to find itself on the "No" side of the
argument, albeit some columnists within it were not,
but it just seemed to me crazy.
I would see it as a great sign of weakness if The Scotsman were to say
"Public opinion has shifted,
"therefore we're going to shift our position on the national question."
I think the readers expect integrity and honesty.
I think it would be a complete betrayal of its history and its
principles and of its values.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect for the paper was that its opinion
didn't seem to matter.
My overwhelming sense, as much as a citizen as an analyst,
during the referendum,
possibly the most exciting social experience any of us will have,
you know, in a lifetime, nothing happened.
You can say to me, "Oh, well, The Scotsman came out on the side of unionism."
But it didn't really...
..have any impact. You know, at one point, one of the websites -
Wings Over Scotland, I think...
They... Their online audience for a very short period was higher than
For centuries, The Scotsman was one of the few voices arguing that
Scotland deserved more Home Rule.
But it is now, rightly or wrongly, seen as a bastion of unionism.
The final chapter of The Scotsman's 200-year tale is the toughest to tell.
At the end of the 1990s,
The Scotsman was selling over 80,000 copies a day.
In 2005, it sold on average 65,000 copies per day.
By 2010, its average circulation went down to 45,000 per day.
Last year, circulation was hovering at just over 20,000 copies per day.
You used to say that when a newspaper's circulation was falling,
it would bottom out and there would be a point at which, you know,
people will take this newspaper come what may and those would be the
readers who, you know, would buy it just for the obituaries,
the TV schedules and the crossword. And so you'd have a base readership.
But there doesn't seem to be any bottoming out at the moment.
Since 2005, The Scotsman has been owned by Johnston Press.
They moved out of their purpose-built office in 2013,
staff and resources have been cut...
..and the paper has suffered.
Whether in the current climate
certain kinds of newspaper can survive as newspapers,
I have my doubts.
It's difficult to see the paper in its current form, under its current
ownership, surviving for five years.
I suspect it might even be a lot less than that.
Faced with declining circulation,
the great hope of all newspapers is to make money by selling adverts to
those getting their news online.
What we do hasn't changed - we tell people stories, we report events,
we analyse things, we have comment - that hasn't altered.
The only thing that's altered is how people access that and how they pay
for the access to it. We do have bigger digital audiences,
we've got a great digital audience,
our audience now is bigger than it's been for a long time.
I think I'm right in saying that consumption of news on the internet,
it accounts for about 1% of the time spent on the internet,
across all news channels. It might be one and a half, but it's certainly not two.
So what we have to do is we have to find an economic model that
understands that we have to deliver things slightly differently.
I'm quite confident, quite optimistic.
For 200 years, The Scotsman has told Scotland's stories.
It's captured our greatest moments,
sympathised in times of national sadness.
It has provoked, charmed and reported stories big and small.
For every historic headline there are thousands of wee stories -
daily slices of Scotland that would otherwise be unrecorded.
On its pages, Scotland has had a passionate debate about who we are
and what kind of country we hope to be.
And the paper's survival has now become part of that national story.
If The Times of London was in dire straits or The Guardian was facing
closure or facing potentially mortal times,
it would be a matter of great interest to the UK political establishment.
I think that the viability and continued survival of The Scotsman
is of that magnitude.
There is a view of the world in Scotland
which is different from the view of the world in Manchester or London or
Paris. Scots look out for the world... We've got a Scottish culture,
which is different from other people's culture.
It's incredibly important that Scotland has voices in print
which represent the best of Scottish thinking,
the best of the Scottish worldview, and that, in my view,
ought to be The Scotsman.
The words... The Scotsman... It's got this wonderful kind of romantic majesty
to it and I think there will always be a future for this newspaper,
no matter. Financial fortunes may come and go, but it's not going to
be a newspaper that disappears, no way.
Can The Paper Thistle sail on for another century?
The future of The Scotsman remains to be written.
I'm really confident The Scotsman will make its 300th anniversary.
So the Thistle will go on and the Thistle will stay and the Thistle will
be there for at least another 100 years.
The Scotsman was a big part of my life.
And...I was sad to leave.
It was like a divorce.
And it's still like a divorce.
I would weep if it wasn't there.
MUSIC: Something To Believe In by King Creosote
# Promised me a feeling
# Something to believe in
# Promised me a feeling
# And I promise to be real. #
For two centuries The Scotsman newspaper has been at the heart of the nation, uncovering corruption, skewering politicians, celebrating the arts and prepared to robustly defend its trenchant views, even at the point of a pistol. The programme tells the fascinating story of one of Britain's most famous newspapers and how over two centuries it has both reflected and shaped the nation.