Monday, 24 November 2014

The National hits the stands: here's my take

Did you hear the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman and the American woman who all went looking for The National at about 7 o'clock tonight?

I'm the Englishman who had been thinking about getting off his bum all day to wander round to the local newsagents to pick up the first edition of the new Scottish daily which will editorially support Scottish independence. The Scotsman was the bloke who got there a minute before me to snaffle up the last copy, before holding it up with a downward tilt to his mouth to show how thin it was. The 32 page tabloid is skinny indeed, and at 50p a bit overpriced, but we both agreed that a new paper is just a good thing these days, and then we wandered along to the next newsagent on the street to see if I could get a copy. For his part my new friend wanted to buy as many as he could to give to his friends, but he agreed to scamper on ahead of me with a promise that one copy was for me.

An American woman had gone into the shop just before him and when I arrived he announced that all the copies had gone. That was when she announced that she had bought the last three, and completely unbidden gave one to me. She even refused payment, saying "war all have to stick together on this one," so I not only got to read The National, but it came as a freebie as well.

So what do I think of it? My first reaction is that it is a bit preachy. Most of the stories are seen though the eyes of a committed, fire-breathing Nationalist, and more of the Yes voters are now people who want to get on with their lives. We fought a good fight, but there is more to our lives than trying to turn the referendum into a neverendum.

Secondly, I am dubious about the exclusive story which claims that Rangers and Celtic have combined to undermine the government's anti-sectarian drive. The point here is that Prods and Papes may enjoy hammering seven bells out of each other, but that does not mean that they are anti-independence. It means that they have a different set of cultural values to the ones propounded by the hacks who write for The National, but that is not the same thing. If the paper wants to attract the type of people who stuff a tabloid into the back pocket of their jeans then the self-righteous, bourgeois gittery needs to go.

Staying on the same theme, I could have done without the two page spread that profiled Hassan Rouhani. That's OK, as I had never heard of him, either, but he turns out to be the President of Iran...

Overall, the paper gives me the impression of something that has been knocked out in haste, so much so that the website is nothing more than a holding page at the time of writing. That in itself is not a major problem as the committed will buy the paper in the same way that Labour activists bought the News on Sunday back in the 1980s. However, does Scotland really need a paper that is only bought out of a sense of duty by the ideologically pure at heart?

If The National is to succeed then it needs to attract readers from the Daily Mail and its similar middlebrow competitors such as the Daily Express. The paper is obviously not aimed at the Sun's readership as there are not enough tit, bum and celebrity pages to attract that market. The problem is that as a mid-market tabloid it is not chatty enough to bring those readers over, and the air of pulpit pounding seriousness may put them off as well.

It's not the end of the world, and I hope that The National succeeds in its aim of giving Scotland a new daily paper that looks at the country through a nationalist lens. If it can acquire a character all of its own, one that appeals to a nationalist-leaning readership that is made up of people who have other things to do that talk about politics all the time, then it should do well.

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