Top Tories shun job of Scottish leader

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The Independent Online
THE CONSERVATIVE party in Scotland, which lost all its seats at the last general election, will lack a prominent public figure to lead its troops into next May's elections for the Scottish Parliament, writes Marie Woolf.

Senior Scottish Tories, including Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Forsyth and Ian Lang, have not put their names up for the post of "interim leader", who will be elected today by secret ballot.

Only two nominations have been received for the post regarded as crucial to spearheading the party's comeback in Scotland in the face of rising support for Scottish nationalism.

The candidates - who will be elected in Edinburgh by Tory candidates for the Scottish Parliament - are Phil Gallie, the former MP for Ayr who lost his Westminster seat at the last general election, and David McLetchie, an Edinburgh lawyer.

The Scottish National Party seized on the nominations as further evidence of the Conservatives' lacklustre showing north of the border.

"The Conservative party are so out of touch with popular opinion in Scotland that their leadership contest is largely an irrelevance," said Nicola Sturgeon, an SNP spokeswoman.

An ICM poll of voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament, published yesterday, put the Conservatives on 8 per cent, the SNP on 35 per cent and Labour on 44 per cent. The Liberal Democrats have 8 per cent of the vote.

Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, said that he had not put his name forward because he hoped to regain his Commons seat and was busy as president of the Scottish Conservatives.

"It would be very unhealthy,'' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, "if the only credible alternative to Labour was a Nationalist party which would fragment the UK."