Tory supporters bid for the 'voice of Scotland'

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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

A group of right-wing Scottish businessmen is to launch a bid to buy the Scotsman newspaper, it was revealed yesterday. The move was greeted with dismay by opposition MPs who bitterly condemned the move.

After Thomson Regional Newspapers put the Edinburgh-based broadsheet up for sale on Monday, Professor Ross Harper, a leading Glasgow Tory, revealed that a group of right-wing Scottish businessmen had written to the company "to register their interest". The consortium planned to launch a multi-million pound bid for the 180-year-old title, he said.

Labour and the Scottish National Party criticised the move. George Robertson, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, said it was a "crude attempt to buy a political mouthpiece in Scotland which threatens the Scotsman's reputation for editorial independence and impartiality". Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said: "Any paper which peddled the same anti-Scottish views as the Conservatives would go down the plug hole as fast as Tory fortunes in Scotland."

Mr Harper, former President of the Scottish Conservative Association, insisted the consortium had been formed to ensure that the Scotsman and Thomson's other titles in Edinburgh and Aberdeen remain in Scottish hands. "It would be a tragedy for these papers if they were to be signed over to a multi-national company which did not have the interests of Scotland at heart," he said.

Alarmed by the party's slump north of the border in recent years, Scots Tories, who complain that Scottish newspapers are pro-Labour, have sought to buy media influence. Seven years ago Mr Harper was part of another consortium which tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of the Glasgow Herald from its then owners, Lonrho.

Although Mr Harper conceded yesterday that most of the business leaders behind the new initiative were Conservatives, he rejected suggestions that they were trying to create a Tory title. "That's nonsense. Nobody is going to put up millions of pounds just to give the Tory party free publicity. A handout for any political party would simply not sell." If the group won control of the title, editorial independence and balance would be guaranteed, he said.

Journalists at the paper, who say they are "stunned" by Thomson's decision to sell its local titles throughout the UK, yesterday issued a statement calling on any new owner to "secure the independence of Scotland's national newspaper".

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