Scots Tories urged to break away Scottish Tories show deep divide

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Angry Tories were involved in a heated row after senior Scottish Conservatives called for greater independence for their party in order to avoid "going down the plug hole" at the next election.

An appeal for unity by Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, failed to cover up deep divisions over the growing demands by Tories in Scotland for John Major to listen to the calls for more devolved power.

On the eve of the Prime Minister's keynote speech to the Scottish party conference in Glasgow, five former chairmen of the city's Cathcart constituency party launched a 10-point list of demands, including a referendum on devolution.

But angry party supporters accused them of "cowardice" and "treachery" for issuing the "Cathcart Declaration". The five called for Mr Major to clear out his "jaded" Cabinet in a reshuffle, increase taxes to pay for more education spending, and allow the Scottish Tory party to establish a separate identity with a Scottish manifesto.

One of the five said the Scottish party should become like the Ulster Unionists, closely linked but separate from the Tories in London. They said they were being damaged by their image as an English party, run by No 10 Downing Street .

The challenge came as Mr Major told BBC Radio Scotland he expected to stay as party leader and would lead the Tories to victory at the next election. Mr Major coupled the defiant prediction with an attack on the idea of a Scottish Parliament.

It would lead to lost investment, lost jobs and the certainty of higher taxes. "Devolution would prove to be a route on the way to an independent Scotland and I believe that an independent Scotland would be very bad for Scotland and for the Scots and I believe it would also be very bad for the rest of the United Kingdom." A Gallup poll for today's Daily Telegraph shows that a change of leader would be unlikely to change Tory party fortunes for the better.

The Prime Minister will today reinforce his support for the Union at the conference, but there was growing evidence yesterday that the leadership will be forced to abandon any attempt to preserve the status quo.

Mr Lang defended the Union, but Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, gave a clear signal that the Cabinet is ready to accept pressure for more devolution to counter Labour's plans for a Scottish Parliament.

Ministers privately ruled out giving Scotland legislative powers, but attempts will be made to pass over more power, including more consultation on Scottish legislation, and more freedom for local councils.

Douglas Hurd made a veiled attack on "short-sighted" Tory Euro-sceptics. "We have influence in the EU [European Union]," he said. "Let's behave that way, and not appear like startled rabbits caught in the headlights ever time a new idea comes out of Brussels."