Beaten Fraser may lead Tory fight against independence

Murdo Fraser is thought to be unwilling to serve in Ruth Davidson's front-bench team, following the leadership contest
Murdo Fraser is thought to be unwilling to serve in Ruth Davidson's front-bench team, following the leadership contest
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DEFEATED Scottish Tory leadership candidate Murdo Fraser could be in line for a key role running the party’s campaign against independence under new leader Ruth Davidson.

The Scotsman has learned that Mr Fraser offered to do the crucial policy and campaign- related job during a meeting with Ms Davidson in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

However, Mr Fraser is said to be unwilling to serve in Ms Davidson’s front-bench team and wants to return to the back-benches, which would make it unlikely that he would be able to continue in his current role as deputy leader of the party.

Ms Davidson held one-to-one talks with Mr Fraser yesterday after the new leader had said her main rival in the contest would have a “very big role” in the Scottish Tories, despite his backing for a centre-right Scottish split from David Cameron’s UK party.

Mr Fraser’s expected role as the head of the party’s “no to independence” initiative would be the first appointment made by a unionist party at Holyrood specifically to campaign against the SNP’s independence referendum, although First Minister Alex Salmond has handed the key job as “yes campaign” director to Nationalist MP Angus Robertson.

The new Scottish Tory leader is set to make a final decision on her front-bench appointments later today, a day after she held her first meeting with the group of Tory MSPs at Holyrood.

Ms Davidson is understood to have said during yesterday’s meeting of the party’s 15 MSPs that there had been weaknesses in the Scottish Tory media operation.

The admission comes as Ramsay Jones, the party’s media director, returned to work, after being suspended amid allegations about official bias towards Ms Davidson during the bitter leadership campaign.

A number of MSPs at yesterday’s meeting are understood to have raised the issues surrounding Mr Jones, who was cleared of allegations that he attended a campaign meeting at Ms Davidson’s home.

Meanwhile, a Tory source said yesterday that the party’s parliamentary group was “rife with speculation” that Mr Fraser “wants to stay on the back-benches” for the foreseeable future, but has “offered to help” the party in a policy and campaigning role.

Mr Fraser would not discuss the details of his meeting with Ms Davidson, but he is understood to have accepted after his election defeat that it would be difficult for him to continue as deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Mr Fraser had used his campaign launch to say the party “will never succeed in its current form” and that it had to either “adapt or die”.

Ms Davidson accused her rival of backing a “destabalising distraction” over his proposal for a renamed and rebranded centre-right party north of the Border.

Ms Davidson began meeting other MSPs yesterday to discuss her front-bench appointments, with another round of meetings planned for today with Tory members.

Housing spokesman Alex Johnstone, a supporter of Mr Fraser’s leadership bid, was told by Ms Davidson that he could continue in his role, but he would be handed other responsibilities in policy areas, such as investment and infrastructure.

Mr Johnstone said: “I’ll do whatever is required to further the advance and cause of the party in Scotland.”