20 AUGUST 1988, Page 21


The press: Paul Johnson

on the implication of a new Sunday paper

AS Thatcher prosperity spreads into the west, the north and across the border into Scotland, there follows in its train the spirit of newspaper innovation which has gripped London ever since Wapping. Ten days ago, Thomson Regional Newspapers, which owns the Edinburgh daily, the Scotsman, launched a quality weekly companion to it, Scotland on Sunday. It will also publish this year a new Belfast quality Sunday and has plans for a third in South Wales, where it owns the Western Mail and South Wales Echo. These developments are important nationally as well as locally, intensifying the already fierce competition for Sunday quality readers. The Observer is beefing up its Scottish coverage; the Sunday Times is appointing a Scottish editor and claims it will soon have as many reporters covering Scotland as the new paper. All this is good news for journalists as well as readers, and further evidence of my contention that acceptance of the new technology, while producing huge man- Power cuts in the short term, will eventual- ly create many more jobs than-it destroys. But will the newcomer survive? Earlier this decade, a brave attempt by Thomson's rival, the Lonrho-owned chain which pub- lishes the Glasgow Herald, to start a quality weekly, the Sunday Standard, pro- duced a promising paper but a commercial 11°P. The first issue of Scotland on Sunday also promised well editorially. For 40p you got three sections, totalling 58 pages (but no colour magazine), sober, serious news coverage and a wide range of feature articles. The arts coverage was particularly impressive, of great importance in a coun- try which is undergoing, especially in Glas- gow, an arts revival. The new paper, both in reporting and comment, is genuinely striving to take an objective, fair-minded view of public life. BY this I do not mean that it plays down politics. Quite the contrary. If anything there was too much political comment in the first issue. That is asking for trouble if You are launching yourself in August, when nothing happens. Its op-ed page carried two signed political columns. The first by Michael Ancram, began: 'With Parliament rising last week there will in- evitably be the usual series of analyses of the state of the various political parties.' Immediately below, a second column, by Peter Jenkins duly began: 'While Parlia- ment is away let us, one by one, take a look at the state of the parties.' That set the paper's worthy but predictable tone. However, what I mean by fair- mindedness was illustrated on the previous page, entirely devoted to an excellent analysis of what has been happening to political power in Scotland for the last 30 years. It is not Labour that is advancing (they have lost four per cent of their vote since 1955) but the minority parties, and for every vote these little parties have pinched from Labour they have stolen six from the Tories. The reason is not so much that the Scots have rejected Thatcherism, as that the Scottish Tories have ignored it, being still led by indolent lairds and patri- cians rather than by Thatcherite wealth- creators.

The success of Scotland on Sunday will itself indicate whether a Tory revival in Scotland is possible in the near future. The new paper stands a better chance than the unfortunate Sunday Standard, partly be- cause lessons have been learned, more importantly because its costs, thanks to the Wapping revolution and the decline of the unions, are lower. But, like the Standard, it will succeed or fail not so much by its ability to attract readers as by its advertis- ing pull. That will depend to a great extent on whether the economic upsurge in Scot- land is really solid.

Scotland has been something of a mys- tery in recent years. Tories who cam- paigned up there in the 1987 election claim that all the visible economic indicators pointed upward, which made the Govern- ment's debacle all the more inexplicable. Press and television are crowded with good news from Scotland, notably the economic `I still don't understand licensing hours.' and cultural transformation of Glasgow, which has been gathering pace for some years and has now become a media plati- tude. There are a great many clever young people, not just in Glasgow either, who have started new businesses and are mak- ing a lot of money. They are plainly with Thatcher in spirit if not yet in party affiliation.

At the same time there is a strong and bitter counter-current in Scottish life, espe- cially among the professional middle class, which is anti-English and anti-business as well as anti-Tory. It draws its strength from a quasi-religious conviction — a substitute for the Calvinism which has largely gone that public service is morally superior to wealth-creation. We have to remember that the public sector is proportionately much larger in Scotland than in England and those employed in it feel threatened by the whole thrust of government policy. As the Scotland on Sunday analysis points out: `Civil servants, doctors, teachers, universi- ty staffs, managers of nationalised indus- tries (many of them potential Tory suppor- ters) have all shared a common experience of Mrs Thatcher's revolution — the experi- ence, to put it no higher, of personal uncertainty'.

The 5 August issue of the Bookseller carries an illustration of this counter- current, — an extract from what it calls the `impassioned presidential address' to the Scottish Library Association by Joe Hen- dry, director of arts and libraries in Ren- frew. I am always suspicious of people who make free with the word `caring'; Mr Hendry, in this extract, used it no less than eight times, adding 'committed' and 'civil- ised' for good measure. His theme was the Manichaean struggle between the caring, committed and civilised public services, and what he termed the 'enterprise culture' and 'competitive society' which 'has little need or desire for public services'. As he put it, 'the present government wishes to run Britain as an efficient business', where- as the Scots want to run Scotland 'as a family, as a community, with all that implies for caring'. Hendry did not dwell on how public services are paid for: his only reference to the sordid subject of cash was the duty of libraries to give 'informa- tion of money-related matters through the provision of social security leaflets'. Be- hind this kind of idealism is a touch of moral snobbery, akin to the contempt with which the gentry once viewed those en- gaged in 'trade'. But I have no doubt Hendry speaks for many people in Scotland, and his mentality constitutes the real problem for the Tories there. It is also, in a way, the problem for Scotland on Sunday. Its editorial content should appeal strongly not just to the Hendrys but to the educated middle class generally. But its survival will depend upon the flow of advertising generated by the spirit of unregenerate mammon which the secular Calvinists abhor.