Hague urges unity on Scottish support

Party gives full backing to oppose home rule
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Indy Politics
William Hague arrived in Perth yesterday amid talk of blood on the floor at the Scottish Tory conference and found, instead, a party still in denial after its election wipe-out.

The faithful listened politely to woolly advice about devising policies with a distinctive Scottish edge but voted overwhelmingly to continue the campaign against home rule. Hints of a break-away by Tories sick of their image as an English party came to nought.

Mr Hague used his first major speech as Tory leader to demand unity from the party across the United Kingdom. The election had been lost because Conservatives had lost the trust of the people, he said.

"We were seen as divided, greedy, self-absorbed. Whether we deserved it or not, we were seen as remote from the people whom we were elected to serve."

Mr Hague had no special advice to Scots Tories struggling to recover from what he accepted was a "catastrophic" defeat, and caused surprise by seeming to attach more importance to a call for a referendum on the Amsterdam summit.

Instead of the split with Tories in England, hinted at by would-be reformers, the conference judged a review of party organisation quite radical enough. It is likely to recommend one member one vote for the election of party officers - the chairman at present is appointed by the leader - and a forum to devise policies fitted to Scotland.

The most outspoken advocate of change, Arthur Bell, chairman of the Scottish Tory Reform Group, was nowhere to be seen. He was the unnamed target of strongest criticism of the day when David McLetchie, president of the voluntary wing of the party, said those who wanted to run a party within a party should "grow up, get in line, or get out".

Only two voices were raised in support of a Scottish Parliament during a 90-minute debate on devolution. Ian Buchanan, a former Edinburgh councillor, said the party had not learned the lesson of 1 May. "The Scots want a parliament of some kind whether the people in this room like it or not," he said. "Those who think otherwise are deluding themselves."

Members preferred the undiluted unionism of Michael Forsyth, the former secretary of state for Scotland, who said Tories would not be accessories to the destruction of their country.

"We didn't win the hard-fought battles of the past 18 years by going with the flow. This party has a higher destiny than to become political flotsam, drifting down the rapids of devolution until the United Kingdom shatters on the rocks of separatism."

Scottish Tories are now committed as a body to assist the "Think Twice" campaign for No votes in the referendum, though individuals will be free to take a contrary view.

An ultimatum to the Government to publish its home rule White Paper or risk a hold-up to the Referendum Bill, was issued by Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish, the front-bencher in charge of opposing devolution legislation. Suggesting the ministers might think of delaying publication of the paper beyond the planned date of 23 July, Lord MacKay warned that the Bill would not leave the Lords until peers had seen the details of the scheme the Scottish people would be voting on.