Senior local Tories present united front against split from UK party

SENIOR Conservatives in the Borders have distanced themselves from controversial plans to replace the party with a new centre-right organisation divorced from the UK party.

The proposal is a key plank of the campaign of Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser, one of three contenders to take on the Scottish Party leadership following the resignation of Annabel Goldie after the Holyrood elections in May, which left the Tories with just 15 MSPs.

Mr Fraser claims splitting from the UK party is the Conservatives’ only hope of attracting greater support in Scotland.

Launching his campaign on Monday, he urged that creating a new Scottish centre-right, tax-cutting party would allow it to build a fresh political mandate and attract disenchanted voters. His autonomous party would ally itself to the UK party, but remain independent. His party, he said, would have to “adapt or die”.

Although winning support from former Scottish Secretary of State Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Mr Fraser’s radical prescription has been rubbished by both his leadership rivals, Ruth Davidson, MSP for Glasgow, and Jackson Carlaw, MSP for the West of Scotland.

And senior figures locally have also expressed their opposition to any split.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont blasted: “I reject these calls for our party in Scotland to declare independence. That is playing right into First Minister Alex Salmond’s hands. How on earth can we credibly campaign for Scotland in Britain if we rip ourselves out of our own union?

“No one will be more pleased with these plans than Mr Salmond and the SNP. They will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of the Scottish Conservatives giving up on protecting the union.

“But I for one won’t give in to the separatists. Now is not the time to wave the white flag of surrender to Mr Salmond’s SNP. After all, you don’t beat nationalism by becoming more nationalist. I was elected in May as a Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP and that is what I will remain. What’s more, the members I have spoken to in the Borders are clear that they do not want the party to go in this dangerous direction.

“I think the best person to champion our cause is Ruth Davidson. She is a proud Conservative who will stand up for Tory values: hard work, personal responsibility, enterprise, and fairness. But she is also that thing we need most of all: a fresh face. A new start. The next generation. Someone who can ‘talk Tory’ to people who’ve long since given up on us or never gave us a thought in the first place.

“She embodies like no-one else in Scottish politics the very voters we have to convince if we’re to start winning again: young, professional, patriotic, and aspirational.”

Also endorsing Ms Davidson is John Greenwell, chairman of the Borders constituency association.

“As the leadership contest unfolds there will be options put forward by all the candidates – some radical, some not so radical – but I personally cannot support a candidate that wishes to break from the Conservative Party and put at risk our place within the Union and cause untold damage at the ballot box,” said Mr Greenwell.

“I believe the only candidate I can trust to preserve our place in the Union and change the fortunes of our party is Ruth Davidson.”

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeedale MP David Mundell, the party’s only representative at Westminster, told us: “I welcome the opportunity for debate on the future of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party that the leadership election provides. However, I do not support disbanding the party and setting up a new one with a new name.

“Rather than this simplistic solution to the future of our party, I want to see the leadership candidates set out their ideas on policy and campaigning, and the individual qualities they would bring to the leading the party.

“It also seems to me to be quite contradictory to be arguing, as we are, to keep Scotland in Britain, while at the same time we want to have a totally separate party from the British Conservatives.”

Lord Sanderson of Bowden, who last year headed a review into the Tories in Scotland, felt Mr Fraser’s “strange” idea could play into the hands of the SNP.

“The biggest worry as far as Murdo’s ideas are considered is does this encourage Nationalism? Does it encourage the SNP to get even stronger, which is something I would abhor?”

The election of a new Conservative leader in Scotland will involved a direct ballot of the party’s 16,500 members with the result due to be declared on November 4.