Johnston Press has made clear that its Scottish editors were free to choose whether or not to back Scottish independence.
The company’s flagship daily The Scotsman last week published a 2,000-word leader concluding that Scotland’s best interests lie in continuing to be part of the UK.
However JP, which has its roots in Scotland and was until recently headquartered in Edinburgh, denied taking a corporate position on the referendum vote, due to take place tomorrow.
In a statement issued to HTFP, the company said it had encouraged individual editors to adopt whatever stance best served their own local communities.
It said: “Johnston Press plc is, like many other businesses, currently keeping a watching brief on the Scottish Referendum. In the event of a vote for independence we would be keen to investigate the potential business opportunities an independent Scotland would raise.
“In the event of a yes vote – and given the likelihood of gradual divergence of laws, regulation and taxation between the two countries if this was to happen – we would respond accordingly and are confident we could continue to thrive in any political landscape.
“We currently have 48 titles in Scotland, the majority of which are intensely local and relevant as well as major brands such as The Scotsman.
“As such, we have encouraged our local editors and news teams to adopt a referendum stance that best serves their own community. The Scotsman has announced its position and is backing Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.”
The statement followed the leaking of an email written by the company’s Scottish editorial director Colin Hume which asked editors to confirm that they were taking a neutral position on the vote.
The email, which has been seen by HTFP, was sent out to 12 weekly editors on 3 September, the week before The Scotsman’s declaration in favour of the no campaign.
It read: “I presume we are all taking a neutral stance on the referendum. Please confirm. Ta. Colin.”
However Colin told HTFP that the email had simply been a request for information rather than an instruction to editors to follow a particular line.
Said Colin: “It wasn’t an instruction to editors to stay neutral. Head Office asked us if anyone was taking a particular stance on the referendum and to double-check I sent an email to ask if that was the case.
“Nobody came back saying anything other than they were taking a neutral stance,” he added.
So far only one Scottish title, the Newsquest-owned Sunday Herald, has come down in favour of independence.