SCOTTISH Tories are to give non-members a say in choosing their candidates for next year’s Holyrood elections – without even charging them the £3 “supporters” fee levied by Labour in its much-criticised UK leadership election.
But party bosses say they are confident they will be able to prevent any “entryism” by people of other political persuasions – the charge made over Labour’s process.
Conservative candidates have already been selected to fight all the constituencies in Lothian and elsewhere, but with the party unlikely to win any seats via the first past the post system, it is who gets the highest places on the regional lists which matters.
In Lothian, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson – who is standing in Edinburgh Central – is tipped to get the top slot.
But there is fierce competition between the other eight candidates in the region for second and third places – which could also lead to election as an MSP. In the past, the rankings on the list have been decided by the party members in each area, but this time Tory supporters can also take part.
The party will first write to voters who have told canvassers at previous elections they planned to vote Conservative, urging them to register to help select the top candidates in their region. Then, a dedicated area is to be created on the party’s website to allow other non-members to sign up as supporters and get a vote in the selection process.
Labour was ridiculed during its recent UK leadership contest for allowing anyone who paid £3 and said they supported the party’s aims and values to take part in choosing a successor to Ed Miliband.
There were claims that Tories and Trotskyites were using the system to become supporters so they could influence the outcome, although the party insisted it had robust checks in place to weed out people who did not really support Labour.
The Tories are giving supporters until the end of next month to register. Ballot papers will then be sent out, to be returned by December 10, and the results of the ranking are due to be announced the following day.
All nine constituency candidates in Edinburgh and the Lothians are vying for places. Lothian currently has two Conservative MSPs – Gavin Brown and Cameron Buchanan – who are both standing down.
The party is hoping it can increase its Lothian tally to three. Those taking part in the ranking will be asked to put crosses against their favourite three candidates.
The party said supporters signing up would be checked against the electoral register and it was confident any “entryism” would be spotted.
A spokesman said: “We believe this is the best way to include as many voters as possible in the ranking of potential list MSPs. We’ve been similarly open in the past with open primaries in some areas of the country, and believe we have adequate systems in place to ensure it is not abused.”