LIKE Richard Walker, I had big shoes to fill. Both Richard and Andrew are friends, they have both been my editor and I admire them both as superlative journalists – so the post was rightly an intimidating one, and one which absorbed every waking moment of my life.

It was strange to take the helm of a paper I had joined nearly 20 years earlier at its birth and rose up through its ranks – and difficult to go from being part of the team, albeit second-in-command, to captain of the ship. Just the other day, I was looking through a cardboard box filled with the first batch of notes and studies laying out the vision for the Sunday Herald. It was passed from Andrew to Richard and from Richard to me. If the Sunday Herald has an ark of the covenant containing our founding documents – this is it.

As I was flicking through the papers inside, doing research for this piece you are reading, I stumbled upon a note which was Jaspan deciding on who his launch team would be. One line read as follows: “Neil ‘Murder’ Mackay – great hard news guy, can also write funny stuff as well”. I’d forgotten that as a young reporter Jaspan called me “Murder Mackay” because of my love of covering crime, the bloodier the better. That’s how much of a lifetime has passed between then and now – so long that I’d even forgotten the old nickname my boss had for me.

It made me recall working at Scotland on Sunday in 1998 when I first heard a whisper that Jaspan was plotting a new paper, and calling him up to say I was interested in working for him. When I took the job, one senior member of Scotland on Sunday’s editorial team took me for a drink in the Jinglin’ Geordie Bar in Edinburgh – the paper’s watering hole. They tried every trick in the book to make me stay – more money, warnings that I’d ruin my career – nothing worked. I wanted to go. So finally, exasperated, they said: “You can’t work for Jaspan, you like music, he’s got terrible taste in music.” Years later, that SoS exec would come and work for the Sunday Herald, delighted to play a role in a paper they’d come to love and admire.

My editorship straddled the madness of Brexit, and I was proudest when championing the paper’s pro-European, international credentials, as I believe our exit from Europe is an act of national suicide. The other story I really pushed hard to put at the top of our agenda was the issue of sexual harassment and equality. Tackling the casual everyday discrimination and harassment suffered by women is, to me, a key civil rights battle, and I wanted the Sunday Herald to once again be on the side of the angels and the right side of history.

There were many other causes I focused our minds on: Trump, the pernicious effects of social media, the threat of Russia, cybercrime, the rise of the far right, the plight of refugees, austerity, the horror of the Syrian war, the future of the independence movement, holding governments in Westminster and Holyrood to account, the state of the constitutional settlement between Scotland and the rest of the UK, the Irish border, climate change – all causes that felt natural ground for the Sunday Herald to take on and champion.

However, like all papers in Scotland, sales were declining and those at the head of the company felt that the gulf in values between the Sunday Herald and The Herald was to blame. The issue of the differing “brand values” of the two titles was something that I had been asked to think about by senior Newsquest management since I took the job of editor nearly four years ago.

Earlier this year, I experienced a short period of ill health, which caused me to start reassessing my career. I joined the paper as a lad of 28 and was now a grizzled 48-year-old – I’d been crime editor, home affairs editor, investigations editor, head of news, deputy editor and editor. A lot of my career had been spent all night in cars with photographers chasing bad guys – terrorists, gangsters, paedophiles, crooks – waiting to catch them; I’d travelled the world and seen life in all its awful glory but missed a lot of my children growing up. My little brush with mortality made me think that perhaps the editor’s chair was not the best place for me to enjoy middle age the way I wanted to.

Around the same time, I was told that in order to address the branding problem which was troubling management, the Sunday Herald was to close and Newsquest was to set up two new titles – The Herald on Sunday, with a vision more closely in tune with the daily Herald, and the Sunday National, which will share the values of its sister daily. It was, I thought, a good and fitting time for me to go – with love and affection for all concerned.

To be honest, not all staff are happy about the merger of the Sunday Herald and The Herald – but that is to be expected. Some, understandably, feel a strong emotional attachment to the paper and are sad to lose a title they love.

For me, I believe the spirit of the Sunday Herald will live on wherever the people who worked for it are found – whether in Australia, London, New York or Glasgow.

As for me, I will be writing across the Herald titles – the daily and the new Sunday – as writer-at-large. The Sunday Herald team will still be writing for the new Herald on Sunday, and Richard Walker will be back putting out the Sunday National. As for Jaspan, ever the entrepreneur, I’ve a feeling you’ll probably be hearing something big from him shortly.

My final thought is simply this: I wish every one of the men and women who strove to make the Sunday Herald the paper of excellence that it was for just under 20 years all the very best for the rest of their lives, with much love and utter respect.

It was one hell of a ride while it lasted, folks.