Scottish Tory aims to disband party

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A contender to lead the Scottish Conservatives is vowing to disband the party and split from London control if elected.

Murdo Fraser, already deputy leader of the party, says the brand is "tainted" and needs to be totally overhauled if it is to become a credible force.

The new group, which does not yet have a name, would contest Westminster, Holyrood and council elections, leaving Prime Minister David Cameron with the prospect of having no MPs in Scotland.

The Tories were wiped from the political map in Scotland in 1997 and have failed to make significant progress since then, with only one MP north of the border.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party dropped two seats at the Holyrood election, leaving it with 15 MSPs from the total of 129.

Mr Fraser, seen as the front-runner in the contest to replace Annabel Goldie, is expected to unveil his plan at the formal launch of his leadership bid on Monday.

"The campaign slogan is 'a new party for Scotland'. This is the central plank of my leadership pitch," he told BBC Radio 4.

"What I'm saying is there's a lot of interest in centre-right values among people in Scotland, but they don't vote for the Conservative Party.

"I think it's time we launched a new, progressive, centre-right party with a distinct Scottish identity. One that would have a partnership with the UK Conservative party, and in other respects be operationally independent. I think that would be much more attractive to many people in Scotland who share our values.

"We'd be able to elect far more MPs to the House of Commons to support a future Conservative government than the one we have."

In an extract from his speech for the formal launch of his leadership campaign, Mr Fraser sets out his hope that a new party will help save the union.

The SNP Scottish Government won an unprecedented majority in May, paving the way for a referendum on independence which is expected to be held towards the end of the five-year parliamentary term.

Mr Fraser is expected to say: "A new party. A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life. A new belief in devolution. A new name.

"But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom. A new party. A new unionism. A new dawn.

"For those people who think this is a leap in the dark, let us remember that our most successful electoral period as a party came before 1965.

"We were not the Conservative Party then. We were a party which had a distinct Scottish identity.

"And in 1955, we gained the only absolute majority of votes in Scotland in the period of modern democracy. So this new party will take us back to our roots."

Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, said changing the name is a "simplistic" approach.

"I think there are difficulties in Scotland, it's quite clear by the fact that we haven't made the progress that we want to," he told Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme.

"I welcome Murdo Fraser opening up the debate, it helps to have a debate and discussion. But I think that, fundamentally, changing the party name is a rather simplistic approach to the issues that we face."

He added: "I will take a very great deal of convincing that by simply having a separate party in Scotland that will resolve the electoral issues that we face.

"I think it is quite a contradiction to be pledged to the continuance of the United Kingdom, to the concept of Great Britain, and then to present yourself as a separate party."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Scottish Secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government, said: "I think that what Murdo Fraser is saying is very refreshing. In broad terms, I welcome it.

"It's not, as I understand it, simply talking about changing the name of the party. I agree that by itself will not change the fundamentals.

"It's essentially recognising that we have a Scottish Parliament, it's a different kind of United Kingdom that we have at the moment, and the Conservative Party has to recognise that fact."

Education Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "The truth is that we're not talking about the dissolution of the Conservatives north of the border."

He added: "One of the things I've learnt as a politician from Scotland, but representing an English constituency is that the reality of devolution means that you should allow the party in Scotland to determine its own destiny.

"Critically we do need to have an effective force north of the border, challenging both the danger of separatism that we get from the SNP and also making sure that you have a party that is championing high educational standards, lower taxes and a broad set of values that the majority of mainstream Scotland would like to see championed in opposition to a high tax, separatist socialist (argument)."

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "There is bound to be this debate inside the Conservative Party in Scotland.

"It's a necessary follow-on from the process of devolution. It's a debate which the party in Scotland needs to have and it should not be dictated by the party in Westminster."

Speaking to Sky News, he predicted a "pretty robust debate" in the months ahead, adding: "There is no question of the Scottish Conservative Party being wound up."