The paper it's printed on

What role do newspapers play in independence support?

Denis Donoghue

6/22/20232 min read

man sitting on bench reading newspaper
man sitting on bench reading newspaper

Newspapers are an important but dwindling source of influence for Scottish voters. A report in March of this year, found that print sales of the Herald have nearly halved since 2018 to less than 13,000. And the Scotsman has plummeted to an average of around 7,000 during the latter part of 2022. The DC Thomson owned titles have also declined; although not as steeply. The P & J dropped from 38,000 in 2019 to 24,000, while the Courier has dropped from 30,000 to 19,000 over the same period. Scotland's sole pro-independence paper, the National sells around 4,000 copies a day. And figures from 2021 show that the Daily Record had an average circulation of around 75,000, a year on year decline of 12% which is likely to have dropped further since then.

My recent poll found that two thirds of Scots don't identify any preferred newspaper. Scottish papers were not specified in the poll, but only 7.5% of the sample identified 'other' newspapers; which will include the Daily Record, Herald, Scotsman and National. Of those identified in the poll, the Sun was the most preferred (6.2%), followed by the Guardian and Daily Mail (both 5.9%).

Looking at the independence support by preferred newspaper, those who read the Guardian were most likely to support independence (64%). That's despite that paper's pro-union stance during the 2014 referendum. Yet several of the paper's columnists are pro-independence, or at least pro Scotland's right to hold another referendum; including George Monbiot, Neal Ascherson and Suzanne Moore. The fact that the Guardian is the main left of centre broadsheet might explain its popularity among Yes supporters, or maybe (like me) Yessers only buy it for the crossword! The 'I' paper is also identified as left-leaning, so it's not surprising (given the lack of left-leaning papers) that a majority of its Scots readers back independence (53%).

Those who prefer other (mostly Scottish) papers are also more likely to support independence (50% against 41%). But there is a bigger pro-independence lead among those who don't read newspapers at all (52% against 36%). Unsurprisingly, those reading the right-wing press are most likely to back the union. Although what is perhaps surprising is that more than one in five Daily Mail readers would vote Yes in #Indyref2!