Catching up with programmes on the iPlayer tonight led me to watch a documentary marking the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman, one of Scotland’s great newspapers. (It is available for just over three weeks on the BBC iPlayer here). It made me think of a childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, more precisely in an unit specifically for autistic children. Each day we had a copy of The Scotsman though only I read it in much depth (I was always a weird boy). One of my classmates did usually look at the sport though. The Scotsman was and is the morning paper of Edinburgh and surrounding areas, just as The Herald is Glasgow’s, The Courier Dundee’s and the mighty Press and Journal of Aberdeen. It was only natural that the paper we got was published only a few miles away, at that point on North Bridge in the very heart of our capital though soon to move to Holyrood Road in the shadow of the then-new Scottish Parliament. I became deeply interested in the Parliament after I was encouraged to do a project on it and then I read of its doings and sayings each morning, sitting in my little cubicle ‘office’ in the Miller class flicking through The Scotsman.
I haven’t read The Scotsman in a long while, at least in paper form. I do read it, or parts of it, most days online, usually from links on Twitter. I might buy a copy once a year, perhaps if on a long train journey and it hasn’t changed much in a while. When I was a kid, it was a broadsheet while it has been a tabloid for quite a few years now. I never paid too much attention to its politics, which is probably for the best since when I read it regularly, it was a High Tory sort of paper. I would read it for the news, not bothering to stay for the views.
The stablemate of The Scotsman is the Edinburgh Evening News, or the ‘Evening Blues’ as I sometimes call it because it used to be exceedingly bloody miserable when I looked at it each day as it came into the library. Very often I buy a News if I am in Edinburgh, mainly to catch up with Hibs coverage. That stems back to a tradition of my boyhood. I got a taxi each day to school in Edinburgh and the driver and his wife always had a copy of the News, keeping aside the Monday sport supplement for me to read the latest affairs of Hibs over the weekend, catching up even if I happened to be at the game or indeed if I had read about it in the Pink on the Saturday night (blog post on that subject here). Courtesy of one of my relatives, I have a complete set of the News, including its special tribute edition, following Hibs winning the Scottish Cup last year. It felt right.
When I was a teenager, I used to read The Herald, an unusual move for any teenager or indeed someone living in the east of Scotland. I now see The Herald at work and it is a friendlier paper than its Edinburgh rival in typeface, design and even its history. Then for lots of years I read The Guardian each day until I realised I read more of it online than in print. At one point I read four papers on a Sunday and two on a Saturday, one on a weekday. Now I buy a paper at best once a month, sometimes on a Sunday, sometimes if I’m travelling. I read my news online, like most people, and again like most people I don’t pay for it. That does give me a moment’s pause but I am also employed to give people books for free so I like free knowledge.
The Scotsman is now produced in a drab office block on Queensferry Road in Edinburgh, to be fair with quite nice views across the north of the city. Its previous homes on North Bridge and Holyrood Road are both beautiful in their ways – the former dominates a fair bit of the city centre, stood high up on North Bridge and hitting the ground outside the station on Market Street, while the latter is a modern building in the shadow of Salisbury Crags. One is a hotel, the other, ironically, housing new media in the form of a video games company. Undoubtedly The Scotsman has seen better days. Whether it is on the right side of political opinion now, as it often was in the past, foremost in the campaign for Home Rule, who can say? Particularly in these times of Brexit and Donald Trump, we need a free press and we need The Scotsman, and every other paper, just as much as ever to keep the powers, princes and potentates honest, in Edinburgh and a lot further afield.