The Chancellor sat stony-faced on the rostrum as he was made the scapegoat by angry delegates at the annual Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow, including many councillors who lost their seats in the Tories' humiliating local election wipe-out.
The attacks on the Chancellor from the grass roots could further undermine his support at Westminster, where the right wing are pressing for him to be replaced in the next reshuffle.
John Love, a former councillor from Monklands, accused the Chancellor and his predecessor, Norman Lamont, of being advised by "saboteurs".
"Only a saboteur could have advised Norman Lamont to add VAT on to fuel and to spread the agony of its application over such a long time, allowing the Opposition to strike fear into old folks," he said. "Only a saboteur would have advised the present Chancellor to reduce mortgage tax relief. We have encouraged people to be householders. If that was not bad enough, the Chancellor restricted allowances to 20 per cent. These are socialist policies."
The sparsely attended conference hall in the centre of Glasgow, where for the first time this century there are no Tory MPs and only three councillors, underlined the depth of disillusionment among Scottish Tories. Only about one- tenth of the 2,500 seats were filled.
John Major escaped personal blame, but the Tory leadership was warned repeatedly that it would lose the general election and the 10 Tory MPs in Scotland would be wiped out unless it changed policies.
Malcolm Cameron, vice- chairman of the Edinburgh Conservative Association, said: "The Scottish electorate gave us more than bloody noses. They knocked us senseless." He said VAT on fuel was "as stupid as the poll tax fiasco".
Pam Paterson, a Tory councillor from Ayr, said: "What a help it was in the last Budget - we had withdrawal of mortgage tax relief and yet we cherish the family." It was further attacked as an "act of recklessness" by Neil Deeley, who also criticised Mr Clarke's refusal to reject a single European currency.
The mood among delegates, staring down the barrel of a crushing defeat in the Perth and Kinross by-election on 25 May, was at an all-time low. The Tory by-election candidate, John Godfrey, added to the despondency by making a gaffe. He told the Chancellor that economic inicators were the rosiest since Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Prime Minister. His Conservatives went on to defeat by Labour.
The sense of gloom has prompted a fresh round of soul-searching by delegates. Some said Mr Major's attempt to win votes by defending the Union had backfired. Councillor John Young, one of the so-called "Glasgow Three", said: "People have not rallied to the unionist cause. Instead, ministers in London are seen to be arrogant, refusing to listen to the needs of Scottish voters."
Others, however, insisted that Mr Major's unionist appeals are the key to a Tory revival in Scotland.Reuse content