A FEW days ago it was announced that Andrew Neil was leaving the BBC to become the face of a new 24-hour news channel named GB News. He will also be its chairman – he likes being chairman of things – and at the age of 71 is setting out on a new stage in his long media career.

It’s fair to say that he is not a favourite of the Yes movement, but no-one can argue his achievements as a journalist. Put it this way, you can’t be all bad if Boris Johnson is running scared of you. As was the case prior to last December’s General Election when every other party leader was subjected to a typical Neil forensic interview.

It is when he strays into the area of expressing his opinions that Neil angers the pro-independence movement and left-wingers. He is a Unionist and a Conservative by nature, a multi-millionaire with homes in London and France, yet as Johnson’s cowardice showed, he can upset the right-wingers too.

And let me put my cards on the table here – I worked for Andrew Neil at The Scotsman newspapers and as union leader I proposed a motion of no confidence in him when the titles were going through a bad time. It was passed almost unanimously. I doubt if he’ll even remember it…


ANDREW Neil was born in Paisley in 1949 to James and Mary Neil. His father was an electrician and also served in the regular army in the Second World War and the Territorial Army afterwards and his mother worked in cotton mills. James Neil was a Kirk elder and Andrew Neil was raised as a Presbyterian though he is now irreligious. In his memoirs, Neil said his mother and father were “plain folk”.

He had an older brother, Jim, who became the universally liked and respected editor of the Paisley Daily Express for many years. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 70 in 2009 and Andrew Neil was disconsolate, breaking down at the funeral. He still occasionally tweets about missing Jim.

Neil was raised in the Glenburn area and attended Langcraigs Primary before passing the “quali” that got him into Paisley Grammar School, of which he had fond memories. Many years later when it was threatened by closure, Neil campaigned against it and even enlisted the help of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

From the grammar school he went to Glasgow University where he entered the two great loves of his life – journalism and politics. He was editor of the student newspaper and became chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students and, according to no less a source than Anne Widdecombe, he was very good at it.

His private life over the years has featured in Private Eye, especially his relationship with Pamella Bordes, a former Miss India. He has been married for five years to Susan Nilsson.


HE began as a sports reporter on the Paisley Daily Express but soon moved south to work for the Tory party before joining The Economist – his university honours degree in economics and political science came to the fore and he was soon promoted to correspondent in the UK and USA before becoming editor of the magazine’s UK section. He was then plucked from relative obscurity by Rupert Murdoch to edit the Sunday Times in 1984.

He made the paper into a champion of the free market, sacked many long-term staff and oversaw the transition to Wapping, in London, in a fierce industrial dispute. New technology at Wapping enabled the paper to become a multi-section behemoth, and he also oversaw such scoops as revealing Israel’s nuclear capability, Mark Thatcher’s finances – his mother never invited Neil to No 10 again – and the Malaysian bribery scandal that angered Murdoch who was trying to expand his television business there. Murdoch got Neil to go to the USA to work at Fox News but that did not last long.

All the time Neil was becoming recognised to the public as a radio and television pundit so it was a great surprise when, after helping Murdoch establish Sky, he went to work for the secretive Barclay Brothers and thus took over The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News, plus local freesheets which – whisper it – were probably the most profitable part of the business.

The Barclays sold the Edinburgh-based group but he stayed with the Barclays’ Press Holdings and took a huge interest in The Spectator which had Boris Johnson as editor – Boris left, Neil stayed, ‘nuff said…


HIS tenure at The Scotsman saw Neil’s Unionism and conservatism clash with the political changes in Scotland at the time. He was also an absentee landlord, though any editor who did not run the daily headlines by him before they were printed didn’t last long – seven of them came and went. Then the BBC came calling in 1995 to have Neil front up a late-night politics programme.

He had already fronted documentaries and a talk show or two and was a revelation as a broadcaster, becoming a fixture on our screens. This Week and Daily Politics showed him at his combative best, and he latterly fronted The Andrew Neil Show. It was a victim of the BBC’s cuts earlier this year and the writing was on the wall.


IT’S backed by Discovery Inc and has plenty of money. He is planning American-style news programmes rather than a rolling news channel. Here’s what he said he wants: “Anchors with a bit of edge, a bit of attitude, personality – and people will make an appointment to view them.” Bit like himself.

Let’s hope that as GB News boss Neil remembers that Scotland is an important part of the UK and will be until we regain our independence. It’s probably too much to expect fair treatment for the Yes side, but if he to do his job he must realise the changes in his native land.