Tories deserted and defeated

Party plans to change name in Scotland
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Senior Conservatives are considering plans to change the name of the party in Scotland. Scottish Tories could campaign as Unionists at the next general election.

The radical proposal is one of a number of ideas being examined by party officials in a review of strategy. Following a series of humiliating setbacks north of the border, including last night's defeat by the Scottish National Party in the Perth and Kinross by-election, officials are worried that Scots voters see the Tory party as an English party.

The idea, which some will see as evidence of panic, comes from Scottish business leaders who have lobbied Cabinet members. It is part of a wider review being carried out on the orders of Downing Street as John Major and his Cabinet consider the consequences of a Scottish "meltdown''.

Officials believe that reverting to the Unionist name - Scottish Conservatives called themselves Unionists until the 1960s - would remove the "English" label and reinforce the Tories' constitutional message. Tory sources say the party would not formally abandon its Conservative and Unionist title but leaders and activists would, instead, "play up" the Unionist tag.

The idea of renaming the Scottish party was raised at a private meeting earlier this month between Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and a group of businessmen. The industrialists, all Tory grandees, hosted a dinner during the Scottish Conservatives' conference in Glasgow to question Mr Hurd about government policy.

They argued that after recent political rows over the decision to award submarine refitting contracts to Devonport rather than Rosyth and to combine Scottish Nuclear with Nuclear Electric before privatisation, Scottish voters viewed the Conservatives as pro-English. With opinion polls showing most voters in favour of the Union, stressing the Tories' Unionist credentials could give the party a much-needed boost.

A businessman who was at the meeting said: "We explained to Mr Hurd that there are more Unionists in Scotland than there are Conservatives. Many Scots do not vote Conservative and Unionist because the 'Conservative' bit gets in the way. Many think the word has English and pejorative connotations and we suggested the party subtly drop it north of the border."

The industrialists said Mr Hurd welcomed the suggestion. One said: "He certainly did not rule out the idea. Obviously, he is not in charge of Scottish policy, but he is a Cabinet minister and he has great influence. He took our idea on board."

Political observers say the Tories have already begun to change their campaign language north of the border. They point out that at the end of his speech to the Scottish Tories' conference, Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, declared: "We are the Unionists." Soon afterwards John Godfrey, the Tory candidate in Perth and Kinross, began to introduce himself to voters as the "Unionist and Conservative" candidate.

Last night one senior Scottish Tory official said: "We are not going to drop the word Conservative or disavow our Conservatism. We will not be hauling in party workers and candidates and re-programming them. But there is an evolutionary development going on; a shift of emphasis in which we will re-affirm our Unionism. We believe that this is the way to increase our support."

Comments