SCOTTISH Tory leadership hopeful Murdo Fraser was in the Borders this week for visits to the party faithful in Jedburgh and Selkirk, writes Mark Entwistle
Local party members turned out to hear Mr Fraser’s radical plans to replace his party with a new, as yet unnamed, centre-right party, if he is successful in his challenge to succeed Annabel Goldie.
The Tories’ deputy leader at Holyrood since 2005, Mr Fraser would have been a safe bet to replace Ms Goldie if he had kept his own counsel until after the dust had settled on the leadership contest, which is due to be decided by the 8,500 Scottish card-carrying party members in a postal ballot at the beginning of next month.
Instead, he revealed his scheme to rebrand the Conservatives in Scotland with a new identity from the beginning and, as a result, won the admiration and support of such party grandees as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, as well as seven MSPs and more than 50 Conservative councillors.
His plans for the party seem to have gone down well in the Borders too, with healthy numbers turning out to hear him.
In Jedburgh, local Scottish Borders councillors Len Wyse and Sandy Scott were among the 25 people who turned up to meet Mr Fraser and quiz him about his controversial proposals.
Mr Fraser, the MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife since 2001, told them the Borders was an area which had too often been forgotten by politicians in the Central Belt.
However, he praised the dedication of Conservative supporters and politicians in the Borders for the success the party had enjoyed at polls in the region in recent years
“The undeniable truth we all have to face up to, including here in the south of Scotland, is that we are only returning one MP out of 59 to Westminster,” he said.
“In the last General Election, most of our target seats in Scotland saw the opposition party extend their lead over us as too many people are still not prepared to listen to our message. We need to reach out further and attract a broader coalition of voters.
“I want to build on the Scottish Conservatives and transform us into a new party for Scotland, which would share core values with the UK Conservatives, but have a distinct identity.
“Like many people, I’m fed up of our party being more of a hindrance than a help to our colleagues at Westminster. If we transform our party into a new party that stands up for Scotland and strengthens the UK, we could tip the balance of power in favour of David Cameron at Westminster, and help the UK Conservative party to form a majority government.
“We need to appeal to new voters and I am heartened that local members recognise that my proposals for a new, progressive party for Scotland are appealing to new people who will join us in revitalising the centre-right in Scotland.”
Mr Wyse, who said he was already impressed by Mr Fraser’s campaign before Monday night’s visit to Jedburgh, said the meeting had just reinforced his belief that Mr Fraser had what it took to transform Tory fortunes in Scotland.
“I’d been quite impressed by Murdo for a while now and already quite liked some of his ideas. I think he’s going about things the right way for the Scottish Conservatives,” Councillor Wyse told TheSouthern.
Councillor Wyse said that, speaking to some older voters in Jedburgh, he had found they were turned off by the party’s message on the doorsteps during election campaigns.
“People have had enough. The Conservatives in Scotland have not been flavour of the month for some years now and a re-branding is needed.”
However, the Conservative group leader on Scottish Borders Council, Carolyn Riddell-Carre, who attended Mr Fraser’s meeting in Selkirk, remains unconvinced by his arguments that the party needs to change its identity.
“I do not think the Conservatives are unelectable in Scotland. There are more Conservatives than anyone else on the council and our local MSP was elected by first past the post, rather than from the list – so I don’t buy Mr Fraser’s argument.
“I think Murdo Fraser is likeable, hard-working and prepared to listen but I will not be supporting him,” said Councillor Riddell-Carre, who has given her backing to Mr Fraser’s rival, Ruth Davison.