Scots Tories plan split from party

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Scottish Conservatives are preparing to split from the English party at their annual conference later this month. Supporters of the move hope it will help their party to win new popularity after the loss of all the Scottish Tory seats in the general election, and that it will give them a better chance of success in Labour's planned Scottish parliament.

It would also allow them to elect a leader instead of having one chosen for them by the English party leader, and to select candidates independently instead of from a Central Office-approved list. However, it would deprive them of financial support from the Tory headquarters in London. The new party might change its name, possibly to the Scottish Unionist Association.

This weekend the chairman of the Scottish party said she believed that members would call for radical change at the forthcoming gathering in Perth, and that the Conservative leadership in Smith Square, London, would accept their decision.

Annabel Goldie, chairman of the Conservative Central Office in Scotland, has told party members: "Nothing is off limits."

Miss Goldie was given the job by John Major just weeks before the general election when her predecessor, Michael Hirst, was forced to resign after admitting a homosexual affair.

"This conference, in short, is talking about the survival of the party," she said. When the Scottish Conservatives were linked with the English party 20 years ago it was felt to be an efficient system, she said, but that might no longer be the case.

"In many respects it has been effective and it has been worthwhile. But there may be an argument that events have overtaken that structure," she told The Independent. However, she added, it would be inappropriate for her to give her to comment on demands for a new, autonomous Scottish party at this stage.

"If the demand for change and for radical restructuring is as clament as I anticipate it will be, then that clament demand will indeed require to be processed," she said.

Party leaders in London had accepted that their Scottish wing must decide its own future, she added. "I think south of the border there is enormous sympathy for the position in which we find ourselves, and a readiness to accept that we have to determine what it is we must do to survive," she said.

The party would be quite capable of surviving financially as an independent entity, she added. However, it would be likely to retain strong links with its English counterpart because of its belief in the union. Another crucial decision to be taken at this month's conference of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association will be its approach to the referendum on a Scottish parliament, due to be held in September.

Miss Goldie is chairman of the professional wing of the Scottish Conservatives, the equivalent of the Smith Square headquarters in London. This month's conference is of its voluntary wing, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association. Some members argue that the new party should unite these two wings and act as a single organisation with an elected leader.

The former foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has been suggested as a possible leader, but it is believed he still hopes to return to Westminster after losing his Edinburgh Pentlands seat.

However, Mr Rifkind said in an article in the Scotsman last week that Conservatives north of the border should reform as a modern unionist party with separate funding and a distinctly Scottish identity.

Other Scottish Conservatives have complained bitterly that the party leadership has been out of touch with what was happening north of the border.

Arthur Bell, chairman of the Scottish Tory Reform Group, is among them. He believes the party has defied its own principles by becoming more centralised and would like to see an independent group at Westminster which would work with the Conservatives as a number of independent centre-right parties work together in Europe.

"You cannot have your policies handed down by people who very occasionally come up to shoot in Scotland," he said.