Scottish Daily Mail chief bows to Celtic sensibilities

Memo appears to ban any overtly English imagery or adcopy, Alasdair Reid says

It's sort of heartwarming to discover that the Daily Mail has a sensitive side. The house journal of Little England finds no difficulty whatsoever in upsetting Eastern European sensibilities, especially where the countries concerned have substantial Romany populations. The paper doesn't much care for some of our nearer and larger neighbours either, come to that -- reeking, as they do, of garlic or sauerkraut or the sulphurous stench of Superstate Federalism.

Actually, it abhors the Socialist fringes of its own country too. So you wouldn't think it would worry much about hurting the feelings of a few Sweaties -- as the Scots are charmingly referred to in certain parts of Kensington (sweaty sock = Jock).

Unless we're talking about its Scottish readers, that is. Last week, the paper's sales teams began telling agencies that the editor of the Scottish Daily Mail, Chris Williams, was refusing to carry advertising featuring any kind of distinctly pro-English image or message. For instance, ads containing images of the St George's flag, bulldogs or Beefeaters are absolutely ruled out; and all overtly pro-England copy will need to be removed too.

How touching. Actually, though, people have noted sensitive tendencies in Williams before. Although admittedly, it was he who, in a previous incarnation as the editor of the Daily Express, orchestrated a vitriolic campaign against the Rothermere family, the owners of the Mail. (Although they later took him back, presumably having accepted his excuse that he was only following orders.)

Williams declined to contribute to our piece, with sources close to his office pointing out that he had never "banned" (and they strongly objected to our use of that word) any ad copy in his life nor did he intend to start doing so now. They add that Williams instinctively shuns the limelight -- probably wise given the low tolerance threshold his editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre, has for editors who aspire to a high media profile.

But his position is somewhat undercut by the existence of memos (now in Campaign's possession) sent from the ad sales team in London to agencies outlining in no uncertain manner the policy of their Scottish editor. Mail sources were highly miffed last week that Campaign has continued to run with this story. They argue it's a piece of gratuitous mischief, pointing out that their policy as regards Scottish sensibilities (if indeed they had one) is routine and common sense.

Which is probably true -- though arguably it's increasingly less appropriate in this day and age. For instance, recent research showed the Scots are less instinctively chippy towards their Southern neighbours than they have been in a generation. Indeed, a study published a couple of weeks ago indicated that a majority of those north of the border were no longer implacably opposed to English sporting successes, provided they do not run contrary to the interests of their own sides.

Giles Brooksbank, the joint managing director of Feather Brooksbank, and an Englishman in Edinburgh, says he's seen the odd flag of St George on cars north of the border. But he reckons that Scotland's much-mooted new cosmopolitan sophistication can sometimes be overstated.

"In some papers in Scotland, it would be completely stupid to let overtly pro-English copy appear. So I don't think an editor advising caution is anything new or surprising. It's true that people up here are more tolerant but there's a limit to how far that tolerance can go," he says.

But there will be those who think it slightly amusing to find the Mail acting with sensitivity and then getting all sensitive about the fact that they've been caught out being sensitive. And actually, when you think about it, it's missing a great opportunity to wrap itself in the Saltire here.

That's hardly Williams' style. On the other hand, he has succeeded in reminding everyone he still has a foothold on the Associated Newspapers ladder. His title is doing remarkably well -- its circulation has climbed 8% over the past year to 132,052 -- though he can't claim too much credit for that, because he's only been in the hot seat for a matter of weeks now.

And some say it will only be a matter of time before we see him back in action down south again. This thoughtful journalist, who, according to some sources, "exudes studied calm", is perhaps too classy to spend his time second guessing the sensitivities of the natives north of Hadrian's Wall.

Unless. Hang on, he isn't Scottish, is he? That might explain this thankless posting to the Celtic fringes. "Actually," one Associated Newspaper source says, determined to get in one last gratuitous piece of ethnic diplomacy, "I suspect the awful truth is that he's Welsh."

The Williams file

1988 Daily Mail, deputy features editor

1994 Daily Mail, assistant editor, features

1995 Daily Express, associate editor

2001 Daily Express, editor

2004 Scottish Daily Mail, editor

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