OUR lovely, angry, sweet, bitter, kind, dour, hilarious, sarcastic, sentimental Andy Nicoll left The Scottish Sun yesterday..
Dad-of-three Andy, 58, has been at the helm of our politics team since August 1998, covering all the country’s seismic changes — including Scotland’s first Parliament in 300 years, the death of Donald Dewar, the rise of the SNP and 2014’s independence referendum.
Now our Associate Editor (Politics) has decided that another IndyRef might be too much for him — declaring his personal Brexit for a new life in Italy. Here, he reflects on a stand-out career with The Scottish Sun . . .
That’s Andy Nicol in the back row at a press conference in West Dunbartonshire during the last Scottish Parliament election. Picture by Bill Heaney
By Andy Nicoll
A LITTLE over 40 years ago my mum took me to a gent’s outfitters in Dundee and bought me a camel-coloured sports jacket and a brown tie for £18 so I could start work as a newspaper reporter.
It’s the best job anybody could have. A job for people who want to change the world.
If you think the world’s fine as it is, don’t bother.
Journalism is the perfect finishing school. I’ve hunted lost dogs and panthers. I’ve been to places I could never have expected to go, from the wreckage of Kuwait to an Aids orphanage in Africa, and the streets of a troubled Belfast to the top of the Empire State Building.
I have met people I could never have expected to meet — every PM since Mrs Thatcher, the Dalai Lama, ordinary people in moments of triumph and the depths of grief, heroes and villains, rich and poor.
I shook hands with Donald Trump in the heart of his golden, Bond-villain lair but, at that time, he was just an idiot with bad hair and nobody could have guessed he was going to be President.
I’m acutely aware of the privilege it’s been to do this job and the responsibilities it carries with it.
First, I’m responsible to you, the reader. From council chambers to two parliaments, it was my job to stand toe to toe with those running your lives and ask them why.
Why did they do that thing — and fail to do the other? It’s not enough to let them do as they like in secret for five years then ask to keep doing it.
Every day I’ve been aware hundreds of thousands of you are at my back. You gave me the right to ask questions. You were my authority.
I have tried to do the job right and, if there is stabbing to be done, always to stab from the front, shake hands and move on.
Democracy cannot work without an informed electorate who know what they’re talking about before they cast their votes. It’s never been my job to advise people what to do.
It was my job to set out the facts and to point out the pitfalls or opportunities in the road ahead
It was never my job to choose. It was my job to give people tools to make their choice. Yet people are less and less willing to give a moment of their time to choosing how their kids are educated, how their health service is run, how their taxes are raised or where our young men are sent to die.
The right to vote, this precious gift so much blood was spilled for, is ignored by half of us and taken for granted by the rest. It can only work if you take it seriously. I’m also aware there are people in jail all over the world for doing this job right. And many, many others who have paid with their lives. I speak up because they can’t.
FRONT ROW SEAT TO HISTORY
HOW many of you have got to spend hours sitting next to Sir Sean Connery at Dundee Airport when his plane was delayed?
That gave me the chance to ask the boldest question of my entire career: “Zardoz, what was that about?”
His explanation for wearing nothing more than kinky boots and an orange nappy while flying about in a giant head was brief: “Mortgage.”
I met Ian Hamilton, the man who “pinched” the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey.
I’ve had a front row seat at a little bit of history.
I’ve watched huge changes in politics, from the Scotland United campaign to the night Donald Dewar published the White Paper on devolution.
I was watching every step, to the day Winnie Ewing declared the Scottish Parliament “hereby reconvened”.
From the amazing impossibility of an SNP majority all the way up to the failed indy campaign.
Within hours, Alex Salmond was gone but now independence may, once again, be just around the corner. Alex was a giant figure — past tense.
If she wins again next year, Nicola Sturgeon will be our longest-serving First Minister and her shot at independence is yet to come.
But I’m not interested in listing my top politician. It’s not a beauty pageant. Journalists shouldn’t look at politicians that way. As the saying goes, our relationship is akin to dogs and lamp posts.
I’ll never forget being denounced from the Presiding Officer’s chair by Sir David Steele when The Scottish Sun exposed the rising costs of the Holyrood building. “These figures are not robust,” he squeaked. Aye, right.
Journalists are fighting every day to shine a light on the world but people are choosing shadows, believing what they want to believe because any clown with a Twitter handle can call himself a reporter.
The greatest triumph of con artists is the invention of Mainstream Media. Trump whips tinfoil-hatted supporters into a frenzy at every rally by ranting at the Press.
“It’s all fake news,” he says. Pay no attention to the Mainstream Media. Listen to me and something I heard about from a stranger on Facebook. If you can’t control the truth, invent your own.
As Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels said: “If you want the people to believe a lie, make it the biggest lie possible.”
Nobody had ever heard of social media back then. But now people are being offered what they want most of all — simple answers to complicated questions.
Want something fixed? Easy, just press this big button marked “Make America Great Again,” or “Brexit” or “Independence”.
But there are no simple answers to complicated questions. It’s a journalist’s job to point this out, show how complex truth is and give people the means to navigate their way through.
It’s not all high-minded stuff. There has to be fun too, like when I wrote about a spooky stay in a haunted castle We “inform, educate and entertain”.
I’m a dinosaur. I still do shorthand and bash computer keypad with two-fingered stabs because I still expect to hear it ping a little bell at the end of every line. It’s the right time for me to go.
But those coming after me will keep on doing the job right for as long as you want them to. You should be glad of them. Good luck to them. Good luck to you too.
- We decided to publish this story in The Democrat because we can, and because we thought that many of our readers would be interested in it. Newspapers have changed markedly. The Scottish Sun used to be the old Daily Herald. I wrote its first “splash” which was about people with Irish names being refused employment at the Faslane Naval Base. They were considered security risks. The Scottish Sun, like all of us, has changed. We have had good days and bad days and terrible days and great days. You get a flavour of what journalism is really like in Andy’s account of his Life in the Sun. He should write a book about it. Editor