Media: The Clash of the Tartans Sir David Steel Has Accused the Daily Record of `Bitch Journalism'. the Edinburgh Evening News Lampooned the Opening of Scottish Parliament with a Cartoon of a Pig. the War of Words between the Scottish Media and Politicians Is Reaching Boiling Point. by Jack O'Sullivan

Article excerpt

Scotland may have only just regained its Parliament after 292 years, but it has not taken long for the old poisonous relationship with the press to be resumed. Robert Burns, who famously called the last lot of politicians "a parcel o' rogues" would have been proud of the Edinburgh Evening News on the eve of the state opening. A pig in sunglasses was shown lounging in a deckchair, holding a cheque for pounds 86,000 and reading a holiday brochure for Club MSP.

"The MSP skive is over" - the Daily Record's headline that greeted politicians after the summer recess - might also have raised a Burnsian chuckle. Add in a stream of criticism about the Parliament's alleged bloated costs, bad speeches, the design of its new building, the use of ministerial limos, an excess of parking spaces and the boring legislative programme, and you begin to appreciate the breadth of the current lampooning.

But the po-faced politicians seem to be missing the joke. Indeed, last week, Sir David Steel (as Lord Steel of Aikwood, the Parliament's presiding officer, prefers to be called in egalitarian Scotland) took the extraordinary step of complaining to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). "Bitch journalism" was his description of Scotland's biggest-selling tabloid, the left-leaning Daily Record. He accused it of breaking the PCC code requiring it not to "publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material, including pictures". In support, Sir David's deputy, George Reid of the SNP, protested that Scottish democracy was "a fragile flower" jeopardised by the press assault.

How is it that an institution awaited so eagerly has provoked such swift damnation? And how is it that supposedly thick-skinned, liberal- minded politicians such as Sir David have been so piqued as to challenge freedom of speech?

If one man is to blame, it must be Martin Clarke, the 35-year-old editor of the Daily Record. The front-page headline "For Services to Nobody At All" caused particular offence when the paper recruited war veterans to attack the awarding of medals to MSPs to mark the opening of the Parliament. Mr Clarke's is the one publication that genuinely frightens MSPs. Its anti-nationalist vitriol so damaged the SNP during the elections that the nationalist party nearly bankrupted itself by publishing its own rival daily newspaper. Now the Record has turned on the Parliament, and Liberal Democrat members of the Lab-Lib Dem coalition in particular.

No one is too surprised at the stance taken by Mr Clarke who is said to have the instincts of a middle England Tory. He previously edited the Scottish Daily Mail, the only Scottish daily which consistently opposed devolution. But his broadsides are also an acknowledgement that the cosy consensus between Scottish press and politicians over devolution was bound to fall apart once that goal had been achieved. As Mr Clarke said: "We're not an easy lay any more."

Other newspapers that loyally beat the devolution drum have also become more sceptical. Magnus Linklater, the former editor of the pro-devolution Scotsman, declared: "The standard of oratory has been poor. …