BY JOHN MCGURK
There can be little doubt that the battle over who will govern Britain in the general election now just eight weeks away will be waged mainly in Scotland.
Labour most certainly has to win seats in the south east in particular but if it loses big time north of the border it will have a huge struggle to form anything resembling a majority government.
Following the latest polls which suggest that all 41Scottish Labour seats are under threat by the nationalist surge in the wake of the independence referendum, shock waves have struck both Labour and the Conservatives.
The battle for Britain may well be starting all over again and Alex Salmond, clearly delighted, has summed up the reaction at Westminster as “the heebie-jeebies”.
A vote for the SNP will be a vote for the Tories says the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who refuses to rule out any coalition involving the SNP, while any deal between Labour and the Nationalists will lead to the break-up of Britain says David Cameron.
The cry from the Prime Minister just six months ago was “Please don’t leave us Scotland!” but the shoe is definitely on the other foot and his message now is very clearly “You’re not wanted!”
But there’s another irony about the pollsters’ conclusions that Scotland is now virtually a nationalist country and that is this: the majority of nationalist supporters prefer right-wing newspapers whose editorial headquarters are in London.
How many of them realise that they are actually buying newspapers with a political stance which is the opposite of what they think?… particularly when Scotland’s indigenous national daily papers —traditionally either left or centre left —are fighting to remain printed products.
Look at the National, the only daily paper which supports the independence cause. It’s now thought to be selling under 20,000 copies a day which is one third of its circulation high of some 60,000 when it was launched last November.
These 20,000 sales are not much more than the sales of The Times in Scotland, a right-wing London newspaper, which sells more than 18,000 copies a day north of the border.
Good heavens…even the Daily Telegraph, the paper which hates the nationalists the most, manages to sell nearly 16,000 copies every day in Scotland, only some 4,000 behind the National.
We can choose from 18 daily papers in Scotland, the most competitive newspaper market in the world, and we can even get one free on trains and buses.
When we add up their combined sales every day, the total, according to the latest circulation figures, comes to 854,000 which is not bad for an industry dying on its feet.
Admittedly, the Daily Record alone sold nearly 800,000 a day back in the early 1990s when it ruled the roost but what this surely demonstrates is that the market for newspapers in Scotland, given the challenge of how news and information is consumed today, is actually quite healthy.
In fact, if we assume, very conservatively, that some of these papers are read by more than one person, then the daily newspaper readership figure in Scotland every day is probably nearing two million when the population is less than six million.
The majority of these sales are most certainly publications with a right-wing agenda, some more blatant than others.
Two of the biggest sellers, the Sun and the Daily Mail, which sell a combined 323,000 copies a day in Scotland, often try to disguise their real views by promoting a softer tone in their tartan editions but make no mistake: these are papers which are not friends of the political left.
Then there are the ugly ducklings, the Daily Express and Daily Star which account for 80,000 Scottish sales a day and which are lining up to be more in tune with Nigel Farage and the anti-immigration policies of UKIP.
In fact, the total sales of right wing newspapers papers in Scotland every day comes to 460,000 which is more than half of the total sales of all 18 newspapers available.
Scotland’s two indigenous national “quality” Scottish dailies — The Scotsman at 26,000 and The Herald at 37,000 — face a very uncertain future as printed products but neither of them can be described as right wing.
The Daily Record, whose sale has crumbled to 195,000 a day, retains its Labour supporting stance along with its stablemate, the Daily Mirror, which manages to sell nearly 16,000 in Scotland.
If we discount the Aberdeen P&J and Dundee Courier as local daily papers and put the Guardian and its politics into the same category as the Record and Mirror and include The Independent and the i, the combined sale of non-right-wing newspapers in Scotland is around 250,000.
Some may complain that the tartan editions of papers like the Sun and Daily Mail are now truly Scottish because they are edited and printed here but their editorial hearts beat in London where they make all the big decisions.
Let there be no doubt that the majority of Scottish newspaper readers like to buy newspapers which originate from another country… which, we’re told, most Scots want to escape from.
John McGurk was editor of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday and was managing editor of The Daily Telegraph. email@example.com