By Alec Ross
Six years ago, in the run up to the first Independence Referendum, The Sunday Herald became the only newspaper to come out in support of Scottish self-governance. That fact in itself – that the constitutional preference of roughly half the population of Scotland was and continues to be barely represented by the traditional media – gives a strong hint as to how the referendum was ultimately lost and Scotland’s journey back to normality temporarily slowed. Indeed, faced with a Tsunami of negativity, the breaking of purdah and self-declared electoral jiggery-pokery, I’d argue that getting so close to getting over the line was, in context, a stunning result.
I kept that groundbreaking edition. I read the Sunday Herald’s editorial, complete with its beautiful design by the late Alastair Gray, so often I can still remember whole passages of it.
“Scotland is an ancient nation and a modern society. We understand the past, as best we can, and guess at the future. But history is as nothing to the lives of the children being born now, this morning, in the cities, towns and villages of this country. On their behalf, we assert a claim to a better, more decent, more just future in which a country’s governments will be ruled always by the decisions of its citizens.”
But the past is another country. That was then and this is now. The Sunday Herald now opposes Scotland’s independence.
Look, leave my political and constitutional beliefs aside for a minute. They’re hardly a secret. The Salmond trial begins today. It is of course illegal to report or comment on any rumour or speculation, or to predict the guilt or innocence of the defendant. But what we can agree on is that everyone is equal under the law and everyone deserves a fair trial.
But just imagine if you were accused of some terrible crimes and, a day before your trial started, the most influential broadsheet in Scotland reported your story by putting your image next to Charles Manson, Peter Sutcliffe and the killers of James Bulger. It would surely affect the chances of you getting a fair hearing, which is probably the point. And yet that is what yesterday’s Sunday Herald did. They claim, of course, that they’re not drawing any comparisons between the former First Minister and this parcel o’ rogues. So why run the story at all?
The difference of course is that all of these people were found guilty of some truly dreadful deeds but Mr Salmond is, until declared otherwise, an innocent man.
If this is a foretaste of what we’re going to read in the next few weeks as the trial develops, for those of us who support Scottish self-governance it’s going to be absolutely brutal as the media tries to take down the biggest beast in Scotland’s political jungle and derail the independence movement.
But it won’t work. Because the movement towards self-government is much, much bigger than one man. The trial will, rightly, dominate the news agenda for a few weeks. Regardless of the outcome, the dust will settle and the underlying factors driving independence – Brexit, the increasing centralisation of power, the rolling back of devolution, the flat-out refusal to countenance any sort of compromise on anything, the imposition of bad governments and cruel policies that Scotland has rejected since 1955 but is expected to mitigate, Alister Jack – will remain and the events in an Edinburgh courtroom will change absolutely none of that. There is a high profile trial and there is an independence movement. These are two completely different things. This – the journey to normality – isn’t going away.
The trial is one of the most high profile cases that Scotland has ever seen, but in a month it will be over and life will go on. Regardless of what happens in Scotland’s capital, the case for self-determination has never been stronger and is now a question of when, not if.
For the increasing number of folk who look forward to building a new, fairer, better country with the powers that self-governance affords, it can’t come soon enough.
Yesterday’s Sunday Herald article is just the start, so it’s important to remember some fundamental truths. You can’t stop a river in spate. Independence is normal and independence is inevitable.
It will take a lot more than a high profile court case and some negative headlines to change that.