Tories warm to an Edinburgh parliament

Scotland's historic vote
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The Independent Online
Tired and dispirited, Scottish Tories accepted the referendum verdict with good grace and started to temper their hostility to a parliament in Edinburgh.

The resounding majority for a parliament with tax-raising powers was a final humiliation for the Conservatives, five months after the party's wipe-out in Scotland at the general election. What remains of the Tory party north of the border faces the daunting task of sorting out its internal organisation, trying to attract younger members and preparing to fight elections for a parliament it has belittled. It has neither distinctly Scottish policies nor sufficient potential candidates.

A disappointed member of the Tory-dominated Think Twice campaign yesterday described the party as "dying" and its staff and officers as "amateurs", most of whom should be swept away.

Think Twice raised pounds 230,000, mainly in individual donations, to campaign for No votes on both referendum questions. But the support promised by the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in June failed to materialise. In particular the the party was unable to provide the labour on the ground needed distribute leaflets and put up posters.

The one-day tour by William Hague, the party leader, was blighted by the intervention of Baroness Thatcher - loathed for the poll tax - and, apart from a belated appearance by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Scotland's former Cabinet ministers were noticeably absent. The man who coined the damaging label "tartan tax", Sir Michael Forsyth, was nowhere to be seen, despite tax-raising powers being the main focus of the No campaign.

A weary-looking Michael Ancram, the Conservative constitutional spokesman, appeared at a press conference under the banner "A Fresh Start" and appeared to step back from previous claims that devolution would inevitably lead to independence.

With no Westminster MPs, no Euro MPs and controlling no councils, the Edinburgh Parliament offers perhaps the best arena for Scottish Tories to rebuild. The PR electoral system could deliver them around 20 seats if they are able to find candidates.

In what sounded rather like a bid to lead the Tory MSPs, Jackson Carlaw, deputy chairman of the Scottish party and owner of a Glasgow car sales company, said he had "shared the excitement of everybody" as the referendum results came in. "I think it is a watershed in Scottish politics," he said.