Scottish Referendum – What England’s Sunday Papers Say…

September 15, 2014

By Roy Greenslade via Guardian

The London-based English newspapers pulled out all the editorial stops to urge Scotland‘s population to reject independence.

Leading articles in most Sunday national titles – from the Sunday Times to the Sunday Mirror – carried a similar message: vote No.

Editors also devoted a considerable amount of space to the subject on their news and opinion pages. The Sunday Telegraph‘s “referendum special edition” ran to six pages plus a leader and most of its letters section.

The Sunday Times carried an eight-page pull-out with a cover headline, “The battle for Britain”, superimposed on a union flag. The Tory-supporting Telegraph, Mail on Sunday and Sunday Express urged Scottish people to stay with the union, as did the Labour-supporting Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

The liberal-left Observer and Independent on Sunday were more equivocal, as was the right-wing Daily Star Sunday. The Sindy refrained from offering its Scottish readers advice on how to vote because it saw virtue in the value of devolved power but was worried about a smaller unit being unable to exercise supra-national powers (over the environment, for example).

It also saw virtue in the way in which the referendum debate had “animated and engaged the Scottish people in taking responsibility for their future as few such contests before. That is a great gain for democracy.”

That democratic spirit was best served by letting Scottish voters make their decision without telling them what to do. The Star agreed: it could “see the argument on both sides” and hope that “whoever wins must be gracious to the losers.”

The Observer‘s full-page leader was headlined: “The union is broken. After Thursday, Britain will never be the same again.”

“Whatever the decision on Thursday,” it said, “the result should act as a catalyst for change, a harbinger of constitutional shifts for the whole of Great Britain.”

It pointed out that the three party leaders – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband – had “waited until the last 10 days to spell out just how profound devolution could be.”

They stepped in to offer enhanced devolved powers after the poll movements in favour of Alex Salmond‘s independence demands. The unionists’ reliance on economic arguments had not worked while “the yes campaign” had “gained ownership of the romance and the poetry.”

In its lengthy assessment, the Observer drew on points made by Miliband and two of its columnists, Will Hutton and Andrew Rawnsley, plus an article by the Irish Times’s columnist, Fintan O’Toole in the Glasgow Herald. Its own view came in the final paragraph:

“A new political settlement for the union offers a convincing opportunity of a new start for the whole of Britain. On Thursday, Scotland will decide but, whatever that choice, Britain will not be, and should not be, the same again.”

The Sunday Times also ran a long leading article. It argued that “Great Britain is what makes Scotland great” and that a vote for independence “would be a profound tragedy.”

Some voters “have been so brainwashed by Alex Salmond’s snake-oil promises and misleading use of numbers”, said the paper, but also conceded that “will vote for independence” despite “the economic consequences” because they are prepared to pay the price “to escape the shackles of Westminster rule.”

It was critical of Cameron’s “curious” position and his miscalculation in failing to allow the devo max option that is now being offered to the Scottish people. It concluded:

“Thursday’s vote should be more than just heart versus head. Patriotism is not wrapping yourself in the Saltire and becoming an inward-looking and angry country which happens to be attached to England.

True patriotism for Scots should be a vote for a Union to which they have made an enormous contribution and whose loss would diminish both them and the world. That is what is at stake this week. Scotland should reject independence.”

The Telegraph’s splash headline read like an editorial: “Scottish soldiers lost their lives trying to preserve the United Kingdom. What will their families say now: ‘Well, it no longer matters’?”

It was based on the views of Lord Dannatt, a former head of the British army, who wrote an article for the paper making a passionate appeal to Scots to reject independence in the name of their countrymen who “fought and died” to keep the United Kingdom safe.

The paper’s leading article, headlined “Our future can be great if we face it together”, also built its argument around defence:

“As the Union has contributed to the sum of human knowledge, so it has contributed to the defence of common decency. This country was united in fighting two world wars – and while some of its recent military ventures have been controversial, it remains a significant world player and the lynchpin of the Atlantic Alliance. Across the world, the UK is a beacon of human rights: an example that other nations seek to follow.”

The Telegraph also carried anti-independence pieces by Jeremy Paxman and, more predicably, by Alistair Darling.

The Sunday Express was interesting in that it has long had a dedicated Scottish edition and often runs quite separate leading articles. But this time, the Scottish edition carried its English edition’s editorial and made a bonus of the fact:

“Today, in an unusual step, we invite our readers to see what our sister paper in London thinks of the referendum.”

The leader, “300 glorious years on… and we are still better together”, was passionately pro-union. “Let us not allow the Union to end in divorce,” it pleaded. “We are two supports of an apex that, together, can bear a weight much greater than its sum parts. Let us stay together for our future and the future of our children.”

By contrast, the Mail on Sunday published different leaders in England and Scotland. But they both urged a No vote. In Scotland, it ran 10 news pages plus a full-page editorial, “We built this great nation together. To walk away now would diminish every one of us.”

In England, the leader was headlined “Gamble that could wipe out a nation” and showed some sympathy towards the Scots by arguing that “London-based politicians of all major parties have sometimes forgotten just how separate Scottish traditions are from those of England.”

It was scathing about the Conservative party, which has “hardly dared show its face in Scotland in the past few months.” But that was not a good enough reason to secede from the union.

And there was a pleading tone to its final sentences: “Our ancient friendship with Scotland is too old, too strong, too good for both of us, for it to be broken now. Please stay.”

The Sunday Mirror, with a spread headlined “Fear and Lothian”, ran a leader that also pleaded for the status quo: “United, let’s have a new beginning.” Like the Mail on Sunday, it was understanding about Scottish attitudes towards London and also extolled the way in which people has got involved in the debate:

“This is what politics should be like, with ordinary people really involved. Politics is too important to be left to the politicians… Their frustration and anger at the Westminster establishment, particularly the Tories, is understood by millions in England and Wales.

We feel the same. The answer is not to break away, though, but to stay united. Fighting together for the Britain the vast majority of us want.”

Its stablemate, the People, took a similar line: “Scotland has not been listened to and the people are angry. But it’s vital for all of us that they don’t let their feelings split the union and gamble their future.”

And the Sun on Sunday? Well, it didn’t jump on the independence bandwagon as some commentators thought, mainly because of Rupert Murdoch‘s teasing tweets earlier in the week plus his lightning visit yesterday to Aberdeen and Glasgow.

It carried different editorials north and south of the border. The English one, bemoaning the possibility of a Yes vote, ended with the kind of joke based on a stereotype of Scottish people that would surely upset them.

“The Scots have been promised so much that the political landscape has changed forever. These questions are daunting enough.

But we want to know who gets to keep the deep-fried Mars bars.”

Unsurprisingly, that remark didn’t appear in the Scottish edition’s leader. Instead, it played it straight down the middle: “By the time you read your next Scottish Sun on Sunday, Scotland will either be independent — or it won’t.”

But, drawing on its interpretation of what happened in Canada in the aftermath of Quebec’s attempts to secede, it argued that “we can’t let that happen to Scotland.”

Image: Geralt