Tory candidate quits list, but 'campaign is not collapsing'

Tory leader Annabel Goldie has denied that the party's Holyrood election campaign is in disarray after a third candidate stepped down, this time as a regional list hopeful.

David Meikle withdrew in Glasgow because he felt that his allegations of vote rigging on the list for the city had not been sufficiently investigated.

The top Conservative candidate on the Glasgow regional list, Malcolm MacAskill, stood down last week after it emerged that he had previously been bankrupt, while Edinburgh councillor Iain Whyte decided against standing in the Glasgow constituency of Maryhill and Springburn saying new rules could have cost him his current position on Lothian Health Board.

Mr Meikle will remain as the Tory candidate for Glasgow Southside and a councillor.

Speaking as she launched the party's campaign yesterday, Miss Goldie said: "There's not been a collapse in the Glasgow campaign. Issues arose in Glasgow. The party had dealt with these issues. That's territory for politics, that's territory for elections.

"Things happen to parties. The Liberal Democrats have lost an MSP who has decided to become an independent. Iain Gray faces conflict in his party over division about coalition. These are the issues that can arise."

Mr MacAskill's place at the top of the Glasgow list will now be taken by Ruth Davidson, a former BBC journalist, and means she is likely to become an MSP.

However, the campaign launch in Portobello, Edinburgh, was hijacked by protesters from the Campaign United Against Public Sector Job Cuts, who heckled Miss Goldie during the event. She admitted that she did not have any say in the departure of Mr MacAskill last week.

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"I would not get involved in these decisions," she said. "I'm a political leader leading a campaign. That is my role for this election. I've said, quite rightly, that the party addressed these issues and, quite rightly, the party has dealt with these issues."

The Tory hierarchy in London is also "delighted" with the way the campaign north of the Border has been progressing, Miss Goldie said.

She added: "David Cameron personally endorsed it when I met him earlier this year. We were speaking about it when I met him in Perth. He's very positive. He also feels that we have a very impressive record of delivery in the Scottish Parliament which is entirely surrounded by the ethos of common sense."

The Tories also insist their budget for the 5 May election is in place despite reports that wealthy donors, including former Dundee FC footballer and property magnate Tom Coakley and airport car park magnate John McGlynn, had withdrawn their funding.

"The campaign has a budget and that budget is in place," said campaign co-ordinator David McLetchie. "There is no effect on that whatsoever."

But opposition parties were quick to claim that the Tory campaign is now in turmoil.

Labour's Glasgow Eastwood candidate, Ken Macintosh, said: "Even their candidates have no confidence in where the party is going and are dropping like flies.

"This continuing saga shows how out of touch they are because as families feel the pain of Tory cuts, the Scottish Tories are convulsed with infighting."

• A new poll indicates that Labour and the SNP are level-pegging with more than a month of campaigning still ahead.

The TNS-BMRB survey gives Labour a one point lead in the constituencies (38 per cent to 37 per cent), while both are on 35 per cent in the regional list. The Tories have 15 per cent in the constituencies and 14 per cent on the list, while the Lib Dems have 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. The poll of 1,028 adults was carried out between 21-27 March.