Tory hopefuls criticise plans for new party

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THE battle for the Scottish Tory leadership was hotting up today as Murdo Fraser published a pamphlet setting out the aims and values of his proposed new party and the four candidates faced each other at the UK Conservative conference in Manchester.

Mr Fraser, whose plan to replace the Scottish Conservatives with a new centre-right party has dominated the internal election campaign, said the new, still unnamed party would “put the interests of people in Scotland first at all times” while continuing to support the Union.

His pamphlet said: “Our support for remaining part of the United Kingdom will not stop us from speaking up for Scotland’s interests, for example in areas such as fishing or our regiments, even if it means that we must occasionally disagree with our colleagues in London.”

But it insisted there would still be “a strong relationship” with the UK Conservatives.

It continued: “Although distinct entities, we would fight UK and European elections on a joint platform and take the Conservative Whip at Westminster and in the European Parliament.”

But rival Ruth Davidson said in an interview today she feared abolishing the existing party could splinter Scotland’s centre-right along the lines of Northern Ireland’s unionists.

She said: “The way you build success for the future is on firm foundations. It’s not on name change or about divorce.”

Another contender, Jackson Carlaw, demanded to know how Mr Fraser could guarantee members of his new party would have a vote in future UK Conservative leadership contests.

He said: “This is a party version of the West Lothian Question writ large. Why would the English and Welsh Conservatives allow Scots from a different party to vote for their leader?”

He asked what would happen if Mr Fraser won the leadership but then failed to convince the party to make the changes he wanted. “How could he have any credibility in leading a party he has described as ‘unelectable’ if he fails to get the required two-thirds support?”

The fourth would-be leader voiced impatience with the focus on the idea of a new party at a time when she claimed the SNP’s victory at Holyrood presented the Tories with a new opportunity.

Margaret Mitchell said: “The local government elections take place only six months after the new leader is elected. We do not have the time to create a new party, to change our name, to only look inward.

“The clock is ticking. We have a window of opportunity which we must grasp by getting out into our communities and working for local people.”

The four candidates were due to take part in a hustings on the fringe of the UK conference today. The 8500 Scottish Tory members will receive their ballot papers next week.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com