Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Scottish Daily News was formed as a workers' co-operative 40 years ago...

[from message dated 7th April]

The Scottish Daily News was formed as a workers' co-operative by 500 of the 1846 journalists, photographers/engineers and print workers made redundant in April 1974 when the "Scottish Daily Express" closed its' printing operations in Scotland and move to Manchester. Some of the redundant workers -who set up the Scottish Daily News Action Committee- contributed £200,000 from their redundancy money to set it up.

The London Government , very much at the behest of then Industry Minister Tony Benn, promised a loan of £1.2 million to buy the Express building on Albion Street if the committee could raise another £275,000.  Some £175,000 of this came from the public in shares of £25 each --whilst the remaining £100,000 came from Robert Maxwell, owner of Pergamon Press.

The first edition of the paper rolled off the presses as a broadsheet on 4 May 1975.  It sold out with 300,000 copies being snapped up. However circulation was down to 190,000 by the third week; 180,000 if returns were taken into account.  And by August losses were running at £30,000 a week with a daily circulation of 80,000.

It was decided to relaunch as a tabloid.  It first appeared in its' new format on 18 August and sales did recover somewhat. 

By September however Maxwell was flexing his muscles.  He called emergency meetings on a personal whim, he undermined the existing workers' management and he pushed for an increase in the paper's price.

On 20th of October a provisional liquidator was appointed to run the paper.  The following day members of the papers' executive council met Prime Minister Harold Wilson but he refused to relax the loan conditions.

A rally on November 1st at Custom House Quay saw speakers such as the SNP's Margo MacDonald, the CP's Jimmy Reid and even Teddy Taylor from the Tories call for the papers' survival.

The paper did fold however on 8 November 1975.  Even then though the struggle went on.  A smaller group - led by women's columnist Dorothy Grace Elder - embarked on a "work in" continuing to produce and then sell the paper on the streets themselves for a further six months. But what was said to be Britain's first workers controlled mass circulation daily had foundered with substantial losses.

Ron McKay and Brian Barr wrote an insightful book, THE STORY OF THE SCOTTISH DAILY NEWS (Canongate 1976) that highlighted the challenges the workers faced from the start and the mistakes that were made.  And it highlighted also the destructive, insidious role played by Maxwell.

[Thanks to Wakefield Socialist History Group for this. See also listings, re their next meeting, Saturday 18 April 2015 1p.m. on "Democracy and the Media.."]

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