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'Revolutionary' Cameron offers party in Scotland autonomy over policies

DAVID Cameron has conceded that the Scottish Conservatives' policies could clash in future with the Tories in England, as he revealed his finalised plans for "revolutionising" the party.

The Conservative leader's long-awaited Built to Last manifesto sets out controversial reforms and policy directions for the party - including giving parliament the final say over whether to go to war and putting economic stability over tax cuts.

Mr Cameron's recognition that the party in Scotland will have policies that differ from those in England marks a clear break from his predecessor, Michael Howard.

Mr Cameron said his plans gave individuals and local communities more power, in contrast to the government's "top-down approach".

"That is the mission of the modern Conservative Party: a responsibility revolution to create an opportunity society - a society in which everybody is a somebody, a doer not a done-for."

The blueprint makes clear that the new Tory leader is bracing himself for dissent.

In his policy document, Mr Cameron said that the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly needed to work better and this could be helped by "recognising that the policies of Conservatives in Scotland and Wales will not always be the same as our policies in England".

The statement comes despite strong feedback from members, that the "West Lothian question must be answered from a Unionist perspective".

Traditionalists have savaged the plans, which were initially sent to them for consultation in February. Lord Tebbit, the former party chairman, condemned the document as "nothing more than clever marketing".

Of the blueprint's 54 statements and principles, just 11 would potentially not apply to the Labour Party, demonstrating the huge political shift that the Tory leader has tried to make to broaden his appeal.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said: "Members have said there is a need for more specific detail and a clearer direction of travel."

He added that the leader would continue to consider adopting a policy of "English votes for English laws", banning Scots MPs from voting on

English-only legislation.

The area that proved most controversial was tax - with many members objecting to Mr Cameron's refusal to pledge lower taxes. Instead, he is sticking to his promise to put economic stability first.

The most specific commitments in the blueprint included the creation of a "unified border police" and a homeland security minister, introducing a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, and scrapping the government's proposed ID card scheme and unelected regional assemblies.

But an official summary of the views revealed members had asked why there were no explicit commitments on pensions, why the blueprint ignored science and technology, transport and housing, and why there was no mention of "Britain as a player in European and global politics".

Concern over efforts to boost the number of female MPs through the controversial A-list of candidates was clear, with the summary concluding: "Members reasoned that the party should be meritocratic, not tokenistic. Meritocracy is more important than quotas."

Members were also concerned that the Tory party had failed to outline policies on the family.

The manifesto did, however, outline new pledges on devoting more aid to the world's poorest nations and a new emphasis on "quality of life" and the environment. It also said a Conservative government would "guarantee" public services, but not necessarily run them.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said yesterday that the document was a triumph of "style over substance" for Mr Cameron.

And Norman Lamb, a senior Liberal Democrat, said it was a "vapid PR exercise".

The blueprint, Built to Last, will now be put to a vote of party members, with the results announced at the Conservative conference in October.

The manifesto has been likened to Tony Blair's "Clause IV moment" - when public perceptions of the Labour Party were transformed, helping new Labour to win a symbolic victory over reactionary elements in the party.

Clear blue water

ONE of the most stark policy differences between the Scottish Conservatives and their counterparts in England is over the question of tax cuts.

While David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has vowed to put economic stability ahead of tax cuts, Scottish Tories are poised to fight the 2007 election with a pledge to slash 3p off the rate of income tax.

The so-called Tartan Tax, which allows Holyrood to vary the basic rate of income tax up or down by 3p, has never been used.

But such a move would allow the Tories to reclaim some of the ground lost to the Scottish National Party, which is attempting to recast itself as the champion of economic prudence.

Other policies that will not sit comfortably with colleagues in Westminster include the Scottish Tories' support for free care for the elderly and their backing of the decision to abandon university tuition fees in Scotland.

 
 
 

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