AS its reputation grew, The Sunday Herald racked up more than its fair share of triumphs – to list them all would be embarrassing. Neil Mackay looks back at his own pick of the bunch

JOKES and silliness aside, there was not one member of staff unaffected by Jaspan leaving for the other side of the world – to many he’d been a mentor. I especially admired him for giving me my head as an investigative journalist and allowing me the time and resources to do the sort of reporting that is all but impossible today in new super-slimmed down newsrooms. Before he left though, Jaspan made sure the best candidate took over his editorship: Richard Walker, who was by then deputy editor of the paper. “I felt that Richard uniquely understood the ethos of the paper – he was best placed to look after it and cherish it,” Jaspan says.

Walker is one of the most decent and honest people you can meet, so it’s no surprise to hear how candid and even humble he was about assuming the role. “It was intimidating,” he said, “Andrew’s were a very big pair of shoes to fill.”

Walker was given a “sort of life coach” by the new owners of the Sunday Herald, Newsquest, to help him transition into the role of editor – a big, difficult job. The life coach advice was simple – do something to stamp your own mark on the paper, to make it your own.

So, heeding those words, Walker took the most modern of papers and added a little extra top spin of modernity – dropping the old broadsheet format and making the paper a compact. Tabloid in shape, broadsheet in style, delivery, tone and content.

Seasoned journalists from other titles had joined the Sunday Herald and were leaving their indelible mark on the paper. Kevin McKenna, one of the smoothest operators in Scottish journalism and a man with a contacts book most hacks would die for, arrived before Jaspan’s departure, bringing with him years of experience and deal-making, adding to the gravitas of the paper. In 2006, dogged political editor Paul Hutcheon won highly-deserved plaudits for investigations revealing that David McLetchie, then leader of the Scottish Tories, had abused taxpayers’ money to pay for taxi fares for legal and party work. McLetchie later resigned.

We were also now easily attracting star names to the paper. To me one of our all-time great reads was a piece commissioned by David Dick, then sports editor, from Budd Schulberg, the man who wrote the movie On the Waterfront, on Muhammad Ali at 60. A piece worthy of gracing the pages of the best papers in history.

Now well and truly a mature newspaper, with its roots laid down and its infancy long behind it, the years ticked by as they do for all papers – but unlike every other paper, the Sunday Herald has mischief in its DNA and was always looking to take on authority. Let’s fast-forward to May 2011. It was the era of the super-injunction, with the rich and famous able to stop any unsavoury story about them being published.

Years before, the Sunday Herald had flouted a super-injunction over a story relating to a member of the royal family. We’d realised that the injunction did not run in Scotland as it had been granted in an English court, and I wrote a piece which went on the front page detailing the allegations, much to the delight of Scottish readers and the chagrin of those south of the Border where we did not publish.

In order to not flout English law we did not run the story online. Given that this story which you are reading is going to run online, I can’t go into details of the royal piece – but I am sure you can find it if you go to a good Scottish library.

In 2011, however, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, most people knew the names of the rich and famous who’d taken out super-injunctions as well as the reasons for taking them out. I was head of news back then and mid-way through a long Saturday afternoon, Richard Walker and I started reminiscing about the royal story and the fact that the Sunday Herald had been able to ignore a super-injunction in the past because of the gap between English and Scottish law.

I think the look of gleeful recognition crossed his face before mine, but within minutes Walker was on the phone to lawyer – Paul McBride, a man who wore his swagger like a suit, but was loved by pretty much everyone who knew him. Sadly, he died too young, still in his mid-40s while on a trip to Pakistan some years back. Yes, the story was entirely doable, said McBride. Within the hour, there was a front page – iconic now you look back on it – of Ryan Giggs with a thin black strip across his eyes and one word “Censored”.

Under any other series of events, this was not a story which the Sunday Herald would have cared much about – the love life of a footballer not being something that we would see as a fit with our readership, or have any public interest issues surrounding it. But this story was in the public interest and it was not about someone’s private life – this was about power and money and fame having undue influence when it comes to the law, and the utter ludicrousness of everyone in the UK who was online knowing the nature of the story and talking about it in pubs and offices and their own homes, while press and broadcasters could not report a single word. The next day Giggs was named in parliament, and the then PM David Cameron said the law needed to catch up with how people consume news in the 21st century.

Walker says he woke up on the Sunday we published the story and thought “what the hell have I done”, but it was to go on to be one of the crowning achievements of his editorship, putting the Sunday Herald at the centre of a national debate about wealth, privacy and privilege.

By now, the Sunday Herald was following a political trajectory similar to many of our readers. Like many of our readers, we were liberal, progressive and we had fallen out of love with the Labour Party. The SNP – buoyed in many eyes by its valiant opposition to the Iraq War – seemed to offer an alternative home to those of a progressive persuasion. As a paper which had championed devolution, it was – as it was for many of our readers – only an intellectual hop, skip and a jump to supporting independence.

“It was a natural progression," says Walker, who was editor when the Sunday Herald became the only paper to back Yes in 2014. Not all members of staff supported independence and some were undecided – but as Walker says: “A member of staff’s politics are up to them. We weren’t inspecting political identity cards, that’s for sure. People are free to think as they please – but the vast majority of our staff did support independence.”

Walker’s rationale wasn’t solely about nailing our political colours to the mast – it was also about democracy and plurality of the press. “f we hadn’t come out for independence, can you imagine what the referendum would have been like? Not one paper supporting a position held by 45 per cent of the population. It would have been deeply wrong,” he says.

And so came one of our most famous front pages – obviously loved and hated in equal measure, certainly by a margin of 45 to 55 - the “Sunday Herald says Yes”. The decision to back Yes saw our sales sky-rocket for a while, before falling back to where they were. Like all papers, the schisms and riffs thrown up by the referendum hurt the Sunday Herald. It doesn’t take a genius to look at Scotland post-referendum and see a population which has one of the lowest levels of trust in the press and broadcasters anywhere in the Western world – which is a terrible shame because this country has produced some of the finest, most honest and brave journalists anywhere in the world.

In the wake of the success of the Sunday Herald backing independence, Newsquest decided to go for the idea of setting up an avowedly pro-independence paper – a paper which became The National. I was deputy editor of the Sunday Herald by this time and Walker was trying to juggle his day job as editor while planning to launch The National as well. I tried to take some burden off him at the Sunday, and myself and other senior members of the Sunday Herald executive team tried to help him as much as we could with The National launch. It was an exhausting and brutally gruelling period of work.

Walker says of The National: “The Sunday Herald was a paper which gradually found itself supporting independence – the support for independence evolved – The National is a newspaper set up specifically to support independence. That’s the key difference.”

Not long after the launch of The National, Walker stepped down as Sunday Herald editor and left the company. “I was knackered,” he said. “I needed a break.” After he stepped down, I became editor.