Not that I've got anything against independence if that's what the Scots want, but the Express suddenly supporting it seems utterly random. Not to mention desperate...
Express to back Scottish independence
The Daily Express, once a bastion of unionist politics, is about to declare itself a supporter of independence for Scotland in a Richard Desmond-inspired marketing push.
Desmond, the Express Newspapers owner, and his senior editors are understood to have held a private meeting at his Scottish headquarters in Glasgow yesterday with the Scottish National party leader and first minister, Alex Salmond, to discuss launching its pro-independence campaign in the new year.
The Scottish edition of the daily paper signalled its change of tack yesterday morning, splashing on a telephone poll of its readers which showed 59% "favoured independence". The headline read: "Now you say it: Scotland must break free."
It also carried a commentary by its Scottish political editor, Kerry Gill, headlined "Independence bandwagon is gathering pace".
The Express, which has traditionally sported on its masthead a knight in armour with the cross of St George on his shield, has a very different logo in Scotland: the Lion Rampant in red carrying a saltire, the cross of St Andrew, with the subtitle "Scottish and proud of it".
Desmond's repositioning of the paper in Scotland will be seen widely as a marketing gambit - albeit a risky one.
Once one of the most widely-read papers in Scotland, the paper's sales have been suffering. It has been sold as the Scottish Daily Express for decades, long before other London titles launched dedicated Scottish editions, and commanded substantial loyalty among its readers.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations put Daily Express sales in November in Scotland at 80,454, against 127,759 for the Daily Mail.
Desmond's other titles - the Daily Star, which sells 91,668 copies a day in Scotland, and the Sunday Express, selling 44,472 - are also expected to join the pro-independence push.
Last weekend, the Sunday Express carried an opinion piece by Salmond, setting out the case for independence.
However, although the SNP is riding high in opinion polls because of its handling of the devolved executive in Edinburgh, most polls show less than a quarter of voters support independence. It remains unclear whether Desmond's core Express Newspapers readers would support separatism.
This new editorial stance is a minor coup for Salmond. Although the Sun briefly flirted with nationalism in the early 1990s, Scottish daily papers have traditionally been neutral or firmly pro-union.
At the last Scottish parliamentary election in May, the Scotsman declared itself tentatively pro-SNP but opposed independence, while only Sunday papers boldly embraced the nationalist party.
The Express did ensure, however, that it retained one link to its pro-unionist past in yesterday's story on its poll. Gill wrote: "Equally significantly, they want to retain the Queen as head of state and for her to become Elizabeth, Queen of Scots."
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