SENIOR Conservative Murdo Fraser has questioned whether the direction of Ruth Davidson’s leadership will “be enough” to secure a revival of the party in Scotland.
Writing today in The Scotsman, Mr Fraser asks whether the Scottish Conservative Party “in its current manifestation” is “the best vehicle” for its supporters.
He suggests the Tories in Scotland may have to revisit his controversial plan for a new centre- right breakaway party, separate from the UK Conservatives.
Mr Fraser’s intervention in the debate about the party’s future is his first since the bitter Scottish Conservative leadership election of 2011, when he was narrowly defeated by Ms Davidson. The former Scottish Conservative deputy leader refused Ms Davidson’s offer of a shadow cabinet post after the leadership election and has remained on the back benches at Holyrood.
But he praises his rival and says Ms Davidson’s leadership has brought “glimmers of hope for the Scottish centre-right” due to the policy shift on devolution.
Mr Fraser, a supporter of extra powers for Holyrood, also warns that a panel set up by Ms Davidson on devolution may fail to deliver any real benefits to the Tories or the anti-independence Better Together campaign.
He raises concerns the policy panel is headed up by former minister Lord Strathclyde, who Mr Fraser says is “no personal enthusiast for further devolution” and that his “scepticism” on the issue is shared by many party grandees close to Ms Davidson.
Mr Fraser’s intervention threatens to reopen the damaging rift within the Conservatives of the leadership election, which saw allegations of party bias in favour of Ms Davidson. The Scottish party’s former top spin doctor, Ramsay Jones, was suspended during the contest after attending a meeting at Ms Davidson’s Glasgow home, despite being advised to stay neutral.
Mr Fraser’s latest remarks will raise suggestions of unease in the Conservative ranks about Ms Davidson’s performance at Holy-rood during her 18 months as leader. Ms Davidson said during the leadership election that the Scotland Act, which beefs up Scotland’s control of taxation, should be a “line in the sand” on devolution. However, she used a keynote speech this year to say that Westminster should pass more control over taxation to Holyrood to make the latter more accountable.
Mr Fraser welcomed what he said was Ms Davidson’s policy shift from her position in 2011 and talked about a “realisation that this stance was untenable”. But he questioned whether her approach would reverse the electoral fortunes of the Scottish Tories, who now have only one MP north of the Border.
He went on to say that the Scottish Conservatives had “been slow to learn the truth” about the reasons for the party’s electoral failure in Scotland over the past two decades. He suggested the party had been “trapped in a vicious cycle of declining electoral support” by repeatedly campaigning on platforms rejected by the Scottish electorate.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson`s Spring speeches on the constitution have been well received and the party is looking forward to next year’s referendum and the electoral tests in 2015 and 2016.”