We, the co-editors of sceptical.scot, Fay Young and David Gow, have reluctantly decided to cease regular publication of this online cultural and current affairs magazine after seven eventful years.
Update, October 2022: Events, including the war in Ukraine, Johnson’s replacement by Truss, market mayhem and, not least, a political awakening from inert somnolence in Scotland have prompted us to post the occasional piece we deem especially stimulating – see Prof James Mitchell on the changing political landscape, Prof John McLaren on a dearth of economic debate and Prof Anton Muscatelli with a credibility test on populist policies – and there will be more. As we said above: we have ceased regular publication on a weekly basis. But the need for informed scepticism is greater now as we enter (perhaps) the end-game of Conservative rule post-2010…
The magazine began life on March 15 2015 but its origins go back to the September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence and the long preceding campaign. A group of us (writers, journalists, activists, artists etc) felt strongly that #indyref1 had been a momentous moment but one that left too great a binary divide between supporters of independence and/or unionism.
From the start, the editors sought to go beyond that divide by publishing comment and analysis of Scottish political, socio-economic and cultural life that was/is based on evidence and challenges easy assumptions. The editorial board, like the editors, shared a variety of views on the best way forward for Scotland and its 5.4m people, not least within an international perspective, but, equally, shared the commitment to evidence-based reporting and comment.
Over the past seven years we have published 1200 posts and attracted half a million views – perhaps a comparatively small output and readership but reflecting the dedicated efforts of a handful at best of (largely retired full-time journalist) editors. In recent years, these posts have focused increasingly on policy fields such as education, health, the economy and devolution and on the ever-growing gap between policy objective/target and performance/outcome.
The most read (and commented) post by far has been Stephen Mullen’s The myth of Scottish slaves (67K views). But pieces by Prof Walter Humes on education such as Seven reasons why Scottish education is under-performing or John McLaren on the economy such as How Scotland ranks have done well. Two of 15 original pieces from the pen of Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey – Down to the river of death (on young male suicides in the Clyde) and Depression, delusion and disorder (on growing up in Glasgow) – especially pre-figured his award-winning career.
There have also been well-read pieces on the initial days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the “tangled history” of Edinburgh’s St James’ Quarter (now in pamphlet form) and on tensions within the SNP (Prof James Mitchell). The two co-editors have contributed on the political economy (Can Scotland meet the EU economic criteria?) and poetry (Five poems for a general election in hard times and In my country: a poem for refugee week) while the original designer, Justin Reynolds, still attracts many readers with his So, what’s so bad about being a Trotskyist?
It has, however, proven harder than the editors initially thought to bridge that binary divide in Scottish politics which, as a growing number of commentators recognise, has become mired in stagnant, sterile positioning as the economy deteriorates. (This pre-dates by a long way the terrible war in Ukraine). There are signs that the tectonic plates may be shifting a smidgen but it is for others to report and comment on this.
For the co-editors it is more obvious that the Scottish polity – and parts of civil society – is simply not prepared to get out of its comfort zone, rethink Scotland’s position within a rapidly changing geo-political environment, join in European and global debates on the way forward or, bluntly, abandon its parochialism and provincialism. There is simply a brick wall of often sullen incomprehension in front of us.
It will be for other, much younger, perhaps more enthused, certainly more willing editors, writers and journalists to “shake up Scotland” in a period when the media in our country are traversing a profound crisis. Again, there are signs of a possible revival of public interest journalism and we truly wish and hope it comes to pass. We leave the field, trusting that we have made a small contribution to this over the past seven years.
Above all, we thank all our contributors for their enthusiasm and energy and, of course, you, the readers who have been highly supportive over the past seven years. The overwhelming bulk of our articles and blogs are archived at the National Library of Scotland – a privileged legacy that gives us a great sense of pride and serves as a lasting tribute to all our authors.
Logo by David McAllister; image of co-editors outside National Library courtesy of passer-by; featured image by the editors