Mr Neil, now editor-in-chief of the Edinburgh broadsheet and its sister titles, Scotland on Sunday and the European, passed over several in-house applicants, including the deputy editor Alan Taylor, in favour of Clark, a stern young southerner who was dispatched north of the Border by the Daily Mail less than two years ago to edit its fledgling Scottish edition.
Staff on the Scotsman are anxious not only that they might be served their P45s in a brutal shake-up, but also that the paper will start to shed some of its passion for a Scottish parliament in the run-up to the general election and in any subsequent devolution referendum.
Although it has played down some of its parent paper's Middle England prejudices, the Scottish Daily Mail has railed against a Scottish parliament. Mr Neil has done the same throughout his journalistic career. He even established a separate Scottish section during his editorship of the Sunday Times to challenge the pro-Home Rule consensus in his native land.
Mr Clark denied last night that the Scotsman would lurch to the right under his editorship. "There will be no change in our line on devolution. The paper has been supportive of devolution and will remain supportive," he said. "The only caveat I would add is that we'll be asking some harder questions about the proposals than have been asked in the past."
In crude circulation terms that venture can point to some success. Magnus Linklater, editor from 1988 to 1994, described Mr Clark as "an interesting and unexpected choice" for the editorship.
He added: "the Scotsman's role in the run-up to the election will be crucial not only for its readership but for Scottish politics. Any editor needs to be aware of the paper's strong radical traditions and treat them with care. Otherwise he might risk alienating a loyal but vociferous readership."Reuse content