David McLetchie, a former president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association, defeated the populist former MP Phil Gallie by 91 votes to 83 - a narrower margin than predicted - in a ballot of senior party figures and approved prospective candidates.
The 46-year-old partner in an Edinburgh law firm faces a formidable task in trying to rebuild the Scottish Tories in time for the May election. An ICM poll at the weekend suggested they would win only 12 seats in the parliament.
However, the poll also showed Labour clawing back support it had lost to the Scottish National Party (SNP). Mr McLetchie's strategy will be to win enough seats to hold a "pivotal role" in a parliament where no party has outright control. His main themes will be defence of the union with England and Wales and a brake on taxation - reigniting the "tartan taxes" warning.
"Scottish Conservatives can be an anchor of the Union," Mr McLetchie said. "At a time when the economy is dipping into recession, when job losses are being announced on a daily basis, the last thing Scotland needs is constitutional turmoil."
Both Mr McLetchie and Mr Gallie, 59, are to the right of the party. The closeness of the vote was put down to Mr McLetchie's relative obscurity. Although Mr Gallie represented Ayr until the last general election, he was one of the few Scottish Tory MPs not to hold ministerial office and admitted early in the contest to being a "bit of a loose cannon".
Labour and the SNP are both to issue "vision statements" outlining policies for the May election.Reuse content