Another guest today from Andrew Graeme Smith, a London-based Scot who works in the PR industry, and who previously wrote for us about the No campaign. He grew up in Edinburgh and studied at Dundee, and you can read his blog at

Since taking to Twitter, Rupert Murdoch has been good at causing a stir, but with 185,000 followers (at time of writing) and a whole host of opinions on issues such as the electoral viability of Rick Santorum (who he likes) and the welfare state (which he doesn’t) he is always going to be an interesting Tweeter. However, of his many rants, the ones that have attracted the most attention this week have been the ones he’s made about Scotland, in which he sang the praises of Alex Salmond, berated nuclear weapons and the British empire and seemed to endorse Scottish independence: all part of a good day’s work for the Dirty Digger.

While the support of Murdoch does not necessarily mean the support of his newspapers it does make it a lot more likely that the Scottish Sun and its new Sunday sister paper will soon fall into line. What will be the impact if they do? What does it mean for the tone of the referendum?

The consensus of most people I know is that it won’t make a blind bit of difference, and I’m sure that you’re all well versed on the numerous arguments for why the influence of newspapers is often overstated, however I’m not so convinced. While backing Scottish independence is not a new position for the Sun (who supported it in 1992) and nor is their support for the SNP (who they backed in 1992 and 2011), the difference this time is that this time their own backs and those of their industry are against the wall, and the referendum itself is still 2 and a half years away.

The first point to make is that, regardless of its depleted influence, the Sun still sells 314,000 copies a day in Scotland, which makes it by far the largest selling daily newspaper in the country. The second point is that when the Sun make a political statement they are usually less than subtle (for example their 2007 opposition to the SNP and their 2011 support). Should the paper get behind Murdoch’s new policy then it could be an effective mouthpiece for the nationalists to address an audience who have traditionally backed Labour in Scotland. The other positive for the SNP is that if they can maintain the support of the Sun then they can expect a far easier ride from one of the most vicious tabloids in the country, and meanwhile Salmond’s opponents will be subjected to more of the humiliation that has been poured onto Iain Gray and Gordon Brown in the past.

The reason why the change is significant is not only because of what it may spell for the campaigns, but also because of the reasoning behind it. While the usual suspects tend to see the Sun’s support for the SNP as a way of beating the Labour Party, there is undoubtedly far more to it. Ultimately, The Sun is a business and during a time of declining newspaper sales and their own inner turmoil it is thoroughly unlikely that the move would be purely to spite the Labour Party (which probably does play a small part when we consider Miliband’s reaction to the Sunday Sun’s launch and how it differed with that of Salmond).

It is also unlikely that should The Sun back independence then they will do it purely because Murdoch does, there has to be a business case for it too (otherwise the Scottish Sun would have backed Cameron in 2010). Rather more likely is because The Sun needs to run at a profit and will make the decision along commercial lines. The equation is very simple. If News International believes that The Sun will sell more copies by supporting independence then that is what they will do. This is nothing new: research from MORI in 2009 confirmed that The Sun has a tendency to follow its readers and if they didn’t then they probably wouldn’t be the biggest selling newspaper in the country. This is significant in itself because it implies that there is already a business case for tabloids to be thinking about backing the YES campaign.

In terms of the other papers, I would anticipate that the Daily Record will probably strengthen its unionist voice in order to differentiate itself from the newly nationalist Sun. I would expect the broadsheets to be fairly agnostic with a slight tendency towards a no vote from the more conservative among them (aside from The Times who have given Salmond their Politician of the Year award and will probably show a more strained support for a YES vote). I would expect the Daily Star to stay out of it and the Mail and Express to stick to doing what they do best (which is preaching to their respective choirs) while the soon to be reprinted Daily Sport will be lucky if they even mention that a referendum is happening…

Finally, Murdoch’s words themselves are important, “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win.” It is hard to read this without thinking about Murdoch’s immediate business interests. I suspect that his idea of a competitive Scotland is one that is cutting corporation tax, business rates and taxes for the wealthy. Quite how the Digger squares this neoliberal circle with a Scotland that is increasingly moving in a traditionally social-democratic direction I don’t know. Regardless of his own political ideologies, Murdoch has caused quite a stir, and probably not for the last time.