Sunday, 4 September 2011
AS ENGLAND GOES MORE TO THE RIGHT, SCOTLAND SEES THE COMING END OF THE TORIES
Tories think about disbanding in Scotland
Dramatic plans to disband the Tories north of the border were unveiled by the front-runner for its leadership in a move one senior party figure warned could encourage the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Mr Cameron – who is spending the weekend in Scotland – faces the prospect of being the first British Prime Minister whose party has no Scottish MPs.
Murdo Fraser, who is favourite to become leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, will announce that he plans to wind up the party if he wins a ballot of members next month.
He would follow disbanding the party by launching a new Right-of-centre party that would contest all Scottish elections — council, Scottish Parliament and Westminster.
Mr Fraser, a member of the Scottish Parliament, believes the Conservatives have become a “toxic brand” in Scotland since losing all 11 of their Commons seats in the 1997 Labour landslide.
Mr Cameron, who is staying with the Queen at Balmoral this weekend, has been told of Mr Fraser’s plans, but has decided to remain neutral for fear of being accused of interfering in the Scottish Tories’ leadership election.
The Prime Minister has privately despaired of achieving a revival in Conservative fortunes north of the border. Mr Fraser has had detailed talks with senior English Conservatives who, he says, are backing his plan.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, has been an enthusiast for a breakaway Scottish party.
Other senior English Conservatives have warned that the party in Scotland must reform itself or see financial assistance from London disappear.
No name for the new party has been decided, but when he formally launches his leadership campaign in Edinburgh on Monday, Mr Fraser will unveil the slogan: “A new party for a new Scotland.” He said: “If I am elected as leader of the party, I will turn it into a new and stronger party for Scotland.
“A new party. A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life.
“A new belief in devolution. A new approach to policy-making. A new name.
“But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom. A new party. A new unionism. A new dawn.” But winding up in Scotland would raise significant questions over the party’s ability to remain committed to unionism with no arm north of the Border.
Mr Cameron has spoken of his personal commitment to maintaining Scotland as part of the UK, which he has described as “positive unionism”.
“I would do whatever it takes to govern in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom and to try to make sure that over time we can strengthen that United Kingdom,” he said in 2009, while leader of the opposition.
The last Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland warned that the union could be damaged by the move.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who was the Scottish Secretary from 1995 to 1997, said: “I think it is naive and simplistic in the extreme to think that changing the name of the party and cutting it adrift from the rest of the Conservative Party could somehow bring electoral success.
“In fact, electoral success is delivered by having credible policies.
“I think the strategy is one of appeasement of the nationalists and I think it is one that will fail.
“Any policy which appeases nationalists is damaging to the union by definition.”
Mr Cameron set up a high-level review commission under Lord Sanderson of Bowden, a former minister, after the 2010 election and this recommended widespread changes in the way the Scottish Conservative Party operates. However, it stopped well short of what Mr Fraser is planning.
The party returned only one Scottish MP in the 2010 general election – David Mundell, who is a minister of state in the Scotland Office – despite large sums of money being sent north from Central Office in London in the expectation of winning as many as 11 constituencies.
The Tory leader north of the border will be decided in a one-member-one-vote ballot of all the 15,000 members of the Scottish party. Mr Fraser has solid support among grass-roots Tories in Perthshire, once staunchly Conservative but now an SNP stronghold.
There are two other candidates in the race: Jackson Carlaw and Ruth Davidson, both Members of the Scottish Parliament, A former solicitor, Mr Fraser, a regional list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, is deputy leader of the Tory group in Holyrood and is clear favourite to win the leadership, following the resignation of Annabel Goldie. He says he has the support of about half of the 17 Tory MSPs. He insists that a vote for him as leader means a vote for winding up the Scottish party.
If successful, he plans to convene a conference where agreement would be sought to transfer the assets of the old party to a new one.
His calculation is that under a new banner, a Right-of-centre party could begin to win back support from business leaders who have proved reluctant to provide financial support for the Scottish Conservatives because of their lack of electoral success.
His backers also hope that a new party could win back some of the young professionals and aspirant middle classes who have recently switched to the SNP.
In an electoral pact with the Conservatives, successful Scottish MPs of the new party would then take the Conservative whip in the Commons and be eligible for ministerial posts in any Conservative government. The arrangement would be similar to that which has operated in Germany for many years between the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria.
However, success for the new venture is far from certain.
There may well be resistance from traditional Scottish Tories and, on a personal level, Mr Fraser has been in the Scottish Parliament since 2001 without making much impact with the voters.
The SNP is on the crest of a wave, thanks to its stunning victory at Holyrood in May and the poor showing of all the other parties. It remains committed to holding a referendum on independence.
It may well take more than a new party and a change of name to stop the nationalists under the leadership of Alex Salmond.
“Whatever they call themselves, the Scottish voters will still call them the 'bloody Tories’,” one observer said..