THE consortium featuring former First Minister Alex Salmond which is attempting to take control of newspaper group Johnston Press, owners of The Scotsman, will formally start their takeover bid today.

The National can reveal that Norwegian billionaire, Christen Ager-Hanssen will this morning requisition an extraordinary general meeting of the company. Having acquired more than 20 percent of the company’s shareholding, most of that in the last few weeks, Ager-Hanssen has the right to call for an EGM and more importantly, he is known to have the support of other disgruntled shareholders.

His aim at the EGM will be to oust current chief executive Ashley Highfield and replace him with Steve Auckland, who has previously run the Metro and Evening Standard.

More pertinently from the point of view of The Scotsman and Scottish politics, Ager-Hanssen aims to replace current chairman Camilla Rhodes with Alex Salmond.

The former SNP leader will be expected to play a major role in transforming the fortunes of Johnston Press whose value has plummeted. As well as a host of local weeklies, it owns The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and the i national newspaper.

Shareholders are known to be unhappy with Highfield and his stewardship of the company, not least because of his salary and emoluments – he earned £1.65 million in 2015.

The company also has debts of £220m repayable by a bond arrangement which runs out in 2019.

Sources close to Salmond say that Johnston Press, which moved its head office from Scotland to London, can be “revitalised” but only if action is taken now.

Salmond himself was adding nothing to the press release in which he stated: “Under our plan the Yorkshire Post will be pro-Yorkshire, the Scotsman pro-Scotland, and the i trusted everywhere for the quality and accessibility of the information it provides.

“The Johnston group has some great titles and some great people. What it needs is a senior management team to match that commitment.”

Ager-Hanssen said: “Alex, Steve and I are agreed on the direction we need to take to save Johnston Press, reinvigorate staff and transform the company into a digital media powerhouse.

“Central to our vision are the interests of shareholders, staff, pensioners and the communities who trust and rely on the Johnston Press titles.”

An insider linked to the consortium said: “A few weeks ago Ashley Highfield was saying that Alex Salmond wasn’t involved in any such deal. Then he was saying there was no such bid coming in and that there would be no EGM. Well, he’s going to get a nasty surprise on Friday.

“No doubt he’ll say that the status quo will prevail, but with his penchant for wrong predictions it looks like he’ll be wrong again.”

Meanwhile Salmond has been delightedly telling friends the story of how he started his working life as an agent selling the Edinburgh Evening News, sister paper of The Scotsman.

He is also known to believe that The Scotsman made a huge error in its editorial that called for its readers to cite against independence in the 2014 referendum. The editor who made that decision, Ian Stewart, has since left his position and been replaced by Frank O’Donnell.

Some staff at The Scotsman’s head office did not appreciate Salmond’s line about the paper being more pro-Scottish.

A Scotsman reporter told The National: “This is a newspaper that was supporting devolution long before anyone had heard of him.

“Many of the editorial staff voted Yes in the last referendum.

“The Scotsman has always been a broad church, politically. Anyone who invests in the newspaper has to respect that.”

In a statement, Ashley Highfield, CEO of Johnston Press, said: “Our key strategic priorities of continuing the success of the i newspaper and growing digital revenues have both shown strong gains during the period. It is significant that The Scotsman saw strong year-on-year advertising growth in Q3, with almost half of that coming from digital, driven by both audience growth and increased monetisation from data-driven, targeted advertising.

“A significant amount of work is being done on the strategic review of financing options and we are pleased with progress to date.”