Tories still pale and stale, Scots politicians say in diversity call

Too many Conservative candidates are 'white blokes in sharp suits' and the party has left the 'hopey-changey stuff' to Labour, senior Scottish Tories have warned their party.

The Conservative conference in Birmingham was hit with a tough message on the need for change from Scottish politicians, who said the party had to be more diverse and build greater appeal with young people to escape its “existential crisis”.

It came as Ruth Davidson told activists the Tories could overhaul the SNP and lead next Scottish Government.

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At a packed Scottish Conservative fringe event, the Scottish MEP Baroness Mobarik said Tories were failing to reach out to voters from minority ethnic backgrounds, particularly in Scotland.

Baroness Mobarik, who has been appointed by the Scottish Tory leader to head a commission on improving party diversity, said minority representation was 'dismally low, or rather non-existent when it comes to the Conservative Party in Scotland'. Picture: TSPL

Nosheena Mobarik became the first ethnic minority Scottish Tory to serve in an elected position at any level when she took on the MEP vacated by the appointment of Lord Duncan to the government.

“In May I had the honour of addressing the Scottish Conservatives’ annual meeting in Perth,” she said. “The only non-white person in the audience was my husband. I think that’s a problem.

“For all our continuing success, we cannot claim to be a party for all of Scotland if our membership doesn’t reflect the communities we serve.”

Baroness Mobarik, who has been appointed by the Scottish Tory leader to head a commission on improving party diversity, said minority representation was “dismally low, or rather non-existent when it comes to the Conservative Party in Scotland”.

“Ultimately, if people can’t relate to you then they can’t really buy into your policies, and they find it that little bit harder to vote for you.

“We’re not giving people enough reasons to join us. We have to make people feel valued and wanted because if we don’t, others will.”

Addressing a nearly all-white audience, she added: “I know it’s a natural thing to see a group of people in front of you and feel like the white bloke in the sharp suit is the best candidate for the job. He fits the bill of what we think of as an MEP or MSP.

“But stereotypes are there to be challenged.”

Baroness Mobarik stopped short of calling for quotas or other forms of positive discrimination, but said the party needs to “put in a bit of resources” to ensure minority candidates are selected in winnable seats.

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie said the party had “ceded the word ‘hope’ to the Left.

“We have simply vacated the battlefield in this country and given Labour and the SNP a monopoly on what is called the hope of change,” the 30- year-old parliamentarian told activists.

“It may be down to the nature of Conservatism; not for us the soaring rhetoric of Obama or the passion of Jeremy Corbyn. But we in this country and in this party are facing an existential crisis.”

Focusing minds on the next Scottish election, Ms Davidson told activists: “We are meeting this weekend just two years and seven months before the 2021 Scottish elections.

“Last time around we went to the electorate with the very simple message: vote us for us for a strong opposition. This time we’ll be asking them to allow us the chance to serve as Scotland’s government.”

The Scottish Tory leader said her party was “not just an alternative to the SNP – but a government that puts all it energies, all its resources into Scotland’s services, Scotland’s economy, Scotland’s schools. Not an administration with a weather eye on the constitution.”

Ms Davidson backed calls for greater diversity, saying: “If the Scottish Conservatives are going to govern Scotland, we need to look and sound more like the Scotland we seek to represent. And that means more candidates from [minority] backgrounds.”

She added: “Scotland needs a break from nationalism so that our country can concentrate on the things that really matter to Scotland’s people.”

The Scottish Conservatives will begin their campaign government by setting out plans for open government to boost trust in public services.

Announcing a discussion paper on transparency to be published next week, Donald Cameron, MSP, the party’s policy co-ordinator said: “The SNP has been secretive in government, completely failing to offer any kind of transparency or accountability.”

Following a data breach that revealed ministers’ email addresses and phone numbers, Mr Cameron joked: “Obviously the Conservative conference app took that to an extreme level.”