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Consortium bid for Scotsman imminent

The consortium of right-wing business leaders bidding to buy the Scotsman said yesterday it could make a formal offer for the Edinburgh-based broadsheet as early as next week.

Professor Ross Harper, the head of the group, which comprises the chairmen and chief executives of some of Scotland's biggest companies, said he had already held meetings with merchant banks in Edinburgh and the City. Mr Harper, who returned to Scotland from the US earlier this week to prepare the bid, said the consortium would "make an announcement on the way forward" next week.

He insisted the group was "very serious indeed" about acquiring the Scotsman. Its main aim was to ensure that the 180-year-old title was bought by a Scottish company. "This is not a political matter: it is an economic matter. I am an economic nationalist," he said.

"I don't want Scotland's national newspaper to be bought by a Canadian, an American, an Indonesian or, worse, an Englishman. It should be Scottish. I think you'll see a large, broadly-based consortium coming together that will ensure the independence and freedom of the Scottish press Scotland cherishes."

His comments came a day after the Glasgow Herald threw the Scottish newspaper market into turmoil when it confirmed that it, too, was preparing a bid for the Scotsman, its main rival. Yesterday Liam Kane, chief executive of Caledonian Publishing, owners of the Herald, said the company formally told Thomson Regional Newspapers last month that it was interested in acquiring the Scotsman. "That remains the position," he said.

The Canadian Thomson Corporation announced the sale of the newspaper and its other Scottish titles, including Scotland on Sunday and the Aberdeen Press and Journal, in early July. The asking price is estimated at pounds 150m to pounds 180m.

Like Mr Harper, Caledonian is understood to be keen to ensure that London- based media groups do not take control of Scotland's leading national newspapers. With indigenous Scottish titles losing market share to their cut-price London rivals, Caledonian insiders say the only way to secure the future of an independent Scottish press is to create Scotland's first large newspaper group.

Caledonian's rivals are thought to include the Mirror Group, publishers of Scotland's biggest-selling newspaper, the Daily Record, and Associated Newspapers, which recently launched a Scottish edition of the Daily Mail. Yesterday both dismissed suggestions they were preparing to bid for the titles.