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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Scottish Conservatives: A Toxic Brand?

The Conservatives in Scotland, a sorry tale of dramatic decline unmatched anywhere else in the UK.

David Cameron is keeping quiet about Murdo Fraser's proposal.

Time was when the Tories could rely on electing MPs from Scotland, with areas like Perthshire solid Tory, but the gradual erosion of their support during the Thatcher years descended into meltdown in 1997 when the Tories were wiped out in the Labour landslide.

Not one Conservative candidate in Scotland was returned to Westminster, eleven Scottish MPs lost their seats.

Even now, there is only one Scottish Conservative MP, David Mundell, despite high hopes that they might return as many as a dozen at the last election, and the party pouring money and effort into campaigning north of the border.

So, as they are about to elect a new leader to replace Annabel Goldie, the front-runner, Murdo Fraser, has come up with a radical plan: "A new party for a new Scotland."

This new party would be committed to devolution, and would work in alliance with the Conservatives south of the border.

He believes the Conservatives have become a "toxic brand" in Scotland. Recent elections would suggest that that is stating the blindingly obvious.

The new leader will be elected by the 15,000 members of the party in Scotland. There are two other candidates: Jackson Carlaw and Ruth Davidson, both MSPs

Although David Cameron, who by coincidence is in Scotland as a guest of The Queen at Balmoral, is keeping quiet about Mr Fraser's plan, others have attacked it.

Michael Forsyth, now Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, was the last Conservative Scottish Secretary (1995-1997). He describes as "naive and simplistic" the idea that changing the party name and distancing itself from the Conservatives will bring electoral success.

He believes the move is designed to appease the SNP: "I think the strategy is one of appeasement of the Nationalists, and I think it is one that will fail."

Mr Fraser, however, says senior English Conservatives are backing his plan.

Assuming Mr Fraser is elected leader, by no means a certainty of course, although he is the hot favourite, his new party will have to come up with a new name.

"Same old Tories" was one of the more polite suggestions from their opponents.

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