Scots MPs urge SMG not to sell to Barclays

The Barclays: went acquisitions

Scottish Media Group is facing political pressure from Scottish Members of Parliament not to sell The Herald to the Barclay brothers, owners of The Scotsman.

Five Scottish MPs have warned in the Commons that the ownership of Scotland’s two national broadsheets should be in different hands.

The five are David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde), David Hamilton (Midlothian), Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame South), Ian Davidson (Glasgow Pollok) and John Robertson (Glasgow Anniesland). They have signed a Commons motion and other MPs are expected to back them.

"A strong and diverse media is essential for a healthy and informed democracy," the MPs said.

But The Scotsman has used a Times article, which put the case for a buy-up of The Herald by the Barclay brothers, to push the argument for one strong Scottish broadsheet group.

Times media commentator Brian MacArthur’s piece last Friday was the basis for a Scotsman page-two article on Saturday saying the Barclays’ bid for The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times, had been endorsed by the "respected media columnist".

MacArthur pointed out that the two groups’ titles sold 480,000 copies between them. The trigger for an automatic referral to the Competition Commission is 500,000 copies. But the referral figure should include circulation for all the titles in the groups. The sales of the Barclays’ The Business and SMG’s Scottish Farmer and Boxing News were left out of MacArthur’s calculations. If they were included, the number would be more than half a million. Opposition to the Barclays’ takeover remains rampant among journalists and MSPs in Scotland. Last weekend, Sunday Herald columnist Muriel Gray said her paper would be closed if the deal went ahead.

She voiced her opinion of publisher Andrew Neil’s hands-on direction of Scotsman Publications.

"Under Neil, even a recipe for artichoke soup in a supplement magazine needs to be checked carefully for some kind of hidden agenda," she wrote. She would like to apologise, she said, if she had given the impression over the past 20 years that Neil was a "man unsuited to any job requiring impartiality".

"I never meant to imply this at all. I meant to say it much more clearly than that. I’ll get my coat," her piece ended.

While Archant and Providence  with Independent News & Media, as well as the Barclays, are bidding for the titles, Gannett, owner of Newsquest, and venture capitalist 3i, advised by David Montgomery, are also thought to be still interested. A deal should be struck by 9 December.

By Jean Morgan and David Rose

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