In 2011, the Scottish Sun came out in support of the SNP, but made clear that they remained firmly opposed to independence. They were probably hoping (and expecting) that the SNP would win, but not well enough to actually bring about an independence referendum. Nevertheless, the day after the election, the paper's editor (or political editor?) was all over the airwaves making plain his satisfaction that the SNP had won a majority, but maintaining his scathing stance on independence. As things stood, therefore, the most likely outcome was that the Sun would back a No vote in 2014, but continue to support the SNP in the 2016 Holyrood election.
In today's Independent, there is for the first time a clear-cut statement from a News International source on the Sun's stance in the referendum -
"We will have a neutral stance."
So in two short years, the Sun have gone from being viscerally anti-independence to a position of studied neutrality. By any standards, this is a considerable bonus for the Yes campaign, which can now look forward to a fair (if not uncritical) hearing in Scotland's biggest-selling paper. And yet, curiously, the Independent seem to think this is "a major blow to the SNP" (not another one, surely!), and a "withdrawal of support for independence by Mr Murdoch" (how can something that didn't exist be "withdrawn"?). Even more bizarrely, they seem to think that this also constitutes a withdrawal of support for the SNP itself, even though the SNP will not be on the ballot paper in the referendum, and even though the NI source doesn't seem to have made any comment whatsoever about the Sun's likely stance in the 2016 Holyrood election.
Answers on a postcard, folks.
There's an even more exotic claim elsewhere in the article -
"The latest opinion poll puts support for independence at 36 per cent, support for Scotland to remain in the Union at 46 per cent, and those undecided at 18 per cent. With a shift away from any radical change widely expected to occur as the referendum gets closer, the "Yes" campaign technically needs to be close to 60 per cent within the next 12 months."
Given that the idea that the Yes campaign needs to reach 60% support (even in polls that fail to exclude don't knows?!) is a rather wild, evidence-free declaration of blind faith, this must surely be a contender for the most inappropriate use of the word "technically" in recorded history. And "widely expected"? Where is it widely expected? In the Kellner/Ashton household, perhaps? Students of the 1995 Quebec referendum (you'd think a pollster of Mr Kellner's stature might be one of those, but apparently not) will be forgiven for having rather different expectations, given that the pro-independence campaign recovered from a seemingly hopeless position to finish in a virtual dead-heat by polling day.