The forthcoming Holyrood election is set to be one of the most significant in the history of Scotland.
Our country and our region is battling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our high streets remain largely shuttered. Our health service and its dedicated staff are on the point of exhaustion. Our education system is battling with remote learning.
Employees are working from home often with inadequate broadband. The cost of housing is often beyond the reach of many young people. Unemployment is rising steadily. Mental health issues are soaring.
We deserve better. We need better
Never before have we needed leaders who can come together and find a path out of this – resilient women and men who put country before party; who think creatively; who forge partnerships and consensus for the common good; who think about their constituents before their career.
In advance of this election we conducted a significant study of voters (not just our readers) across the north of Scotland – with our partners Survation – to ask them what was important to them.
The results were stark and consistent.
Voters are worried about their jobs, about their children’s education, about housing, about rural connectivity, about the oil and gas downturn, about how effectively the region can transition to renewables, and about what our town centres will look like after all this is over.
And yet, turn on the television and the debate on independence seems to suck up most of the airtime. The remaining crumbs are taken up with settling old scores, meaningless soundbites and political barbs.
We deserve better. We need better.
This election manifesto sets out the issues which you told us were important and how we at The Press and Journal will cover this election.
Trust, transparency and impartiality
Our first and most important pledge is The P&J will not tell you how to vote. Not at this Holyrood election. Not at the general election. And not in any future referendum.
We give you the facts – and some trenchant opinion from different sides of the debate – and you make up your own mind. After all, if you want your news with a political bent there are other titles to choose. Trust, transparency and impartiality are what matters to me and everyone in the team.
This does not mean bland neutrality, or that every issue or page will be balanced to the point of tedium. It means we will approach stories and people fairly.
Secondly, we pledge to repeatedly ask the questions that matter to you. One fear is that this election may be policy-free, dominated by personalities, finger-pointing between Westminster and Holyrood, and an uncivil national shouting match between our candidates.
We should be discussing what we are going to do next. And our team of reporters and editors will relentlessly remind our candidates of this at every opportunity. We will ask those questions tirelessly and forensically.
Keeping up to date with every twist and turn of the election campaign
To do this, we have assembled the biggest political team The Press and Journal has ever had to cover an election.
Indeed, I am confident that we now have the largest political staff of any Scottish newspaper with eight dedicated reporters and a group head of politics working alongside our data visualisation team, social media team as well as videographers and photographers.
This has helped us to augment our coverage online and in paper with a new offering called Election Hub Live – a live daily political show broadcast on our website. There will also be a dedicated election page and our popular Stooshie podcast will be running more frequently as we get closer to polling day on May 6.
Of course, keeping up to date with every twist and turn of the election campaign is a full-time job.
Who has the time or patience for that? Instead, we read all the manifestos, listen to the speeches and distil this into meaningful information.
Our pledge is to cut through the noise and explain the important elements in a concise, informative and useful way.
Today we also have a new head of comment joining us, Alex Watson. Her job will be to help source strident opinion on a range of topics including the election.
Some of these comment pieces will leave you agreeing with every word. Others will leave you feeling very challenged.
I believe understanding and respecting opposing views – even if you still vehemently disagree with them – is a vital part of how we challenge our own opinions and come to a more rounded picture of how we believe our region should move forward. And in the time of filter bubbles and social media, this is more important than ever.
Finally, a word on political advertising. The P&J will accept political advertising provided it is clearly marked as an advertisement and creates no confusion in the minds of readers with regular editorial copy. Acceptance of these ads does not indicate any support for a party or cause and we will not carry these ads on the front page.