A daily editor has launched a withering attack on former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond over his bid to become chairman of Johnston Press, branding him an “after-dinner speaker” rather than a newspaper boss.
Scotsman editor Frank O’Donnell, left, hit out after the former Scottish National Party leader described the 200-year-old title as “largely irrelevant.”
Mr Salmond’s comments came after he revealed he was backing the plot led by Norwegian investor Christen Ager-Hanssen to overthrow the current management of JP, which owns The Scotsman and a host of other Scottish and English titles.
But in a strongly-worded editorial published today, Frank questioned both Mr Salmond’s suitability to run a newspaper business – and his commitment to editorial independence.
“If I was searching for a top class after-dinner speaker, I would definitely give Alex Salmond a call. But the man to help steer newspapers through their most turbulent times for 200 years? Perhaps not,” he wrote.
“The idea of Mr Salmond being chairman of Johnston Press and restricting his involvement to prosaic monthly business meetings seems highly unlikely. With The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday as well as 25 Scottish weekly titles, would he really sit patiently and let editors take decisions on stories?
“Those who know him well say he will want to get involved. And once a chairman starts to call an editor asking about a story, alarm bells should start to sound for editorial independence.”
Frank also accused Mr Salmond of being “disrespectful” to his staff and readers after he told the Daily Telegraph he would restore pride and confidence in the flagship JP daily by pursuing a “pro-Scottish” agenda, should the planned coup take place.
Said Frank: “I am not a spokesman for Johnston Press, but I can’t allow an ill-informed attack on The Scotsman to go unchallenged.
“For those who missed it, Mr Salmond said the title is now ‘largely irrelevant’ and that he would restore pride and confidence through a ‘pro-Scottish’ agenda. And this is where his logic starts to unravel.
“Mr Salmond is either ignorant of the paper’s content or perhaps he equates ‘pro-Scottish’ as being pro-SNP. Under his guidance he says ‘editors will decide the editorial policies’ but significantly doesn’t rule out installing a pro-nationalist editor.”
The Scotsman has historically been a pro-Unionist title and backed the ‘No’ campaign in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
However after Frank became editor in April, he announced that the title would be neutral in any future referendum.
Mr Salmond, who lost his Westminster seat at the General Election in June, said yesterday that he wanted to see The Scotsman restored as an “engine of thought and creativity for the nation”.
“Unfortunately and for the first time in its 200-year history The Scotsman has become largely irrelevant…we’ll see if we can try and restore the paper to the respect in which it was held. That respect of having decent journalism and informed journalism is far more important than the editorial lines,” he said.