Scottish Tory suicide is a gift to Salmond

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Tories, is calling for the total disbandment of the Conservative party in Scotland. The SNP is delighted.

SNP leader Alex Salmond can see his treasured dream of independence come a little bit closer this morning as news emerges of Scottish Conservatives toying with an act of political suicide. 

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the paper’s Scotland Editor, Alan Cochrane, has reported that Murdo Fraser, currently the party’s deputy leader at Holyrood and the favourite to succeed Annabel Goldie as leader in Scotland, will, on Monday, launch his leadership campaign.

His clarion call: the total disbandment of the Conservative party in Scotland, favouring the establishment of a new, independent centre-right party.

In a move apparently supported by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, Fraser will unveil his plan under the slogan:

“A new party for a new Scotland.”

Arguing that the Conservatives north of the border have become a “toxic brand”, he will explain:

“If I am elected as leader of the party, I will turn it into a new and stronger party for Scotland.  A new party.  A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life.

“A new belief in devolution. A new approach to policy-making. 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.”

In his initial reaction, writing for the Spectator online, Fraser Nelson has outlined his support for the move, explaining:

“When I did my tour of duty in the Scottish Parliament ten years ago, the Tory MSPs joked they’d rename themselves “the effing Tories” because that’s how they were known. The sad truth is that even then, it was out of date.

“People have stopped even hating the Tories in Scotland – it’s more pity now. Voting Scottish Tory is no longer seen as a giant evil, but as a harmless perversion – like cross-dressing or cricket.

“I know people who are avid Tories in London but vote SNP in Scotland – despairing at the utter uselessness of the party in Scotland.”

While many on the right may see this as an appealing option, a chance to create truly Scottish conservatism, free from the legacy of Thatcher, Murdo Fraser’s move will serve only as a gift to the SNP’s campaign for independence.

In the likely event of Fraser winning the leadership, the fact will remain that the Conservative and Unionist Party would no longer be able to speak for the union. How would that tally with David Cameron’s commitment to the union?

For someone with the communication skills of Alex Salmond it would take little to exploit the idea that if the Scottish Conservatives feel that their association with London is damaging to their prospects, why then should Scotland be tied to that same London?

While the Advocate-General for Scotland, the Lib Dem Peer and former deputy first minister, Lord Wallace, has predicted Alex Salmond will not go for complete independence, the Lib Dems’ abysmal failure at the devolved elections in Scotland rules them out of leading any campaign against independence.

It will be for Labour, and now Labour alone to lead a credible campaign against the breakup of the union.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, a spokesperson for Scottish Labour said:

“This is a brutal admission that the Tories are still a toxic brand in Scotland. People haven’t forgotten  what they did last time – and they’re furious with what they are doing now.

“David Cameron is less popular here than even Margaret Thatcher was. What Murdo Fraser doesn’t  seem to understand is that it is his right-wing policies that alienate people, not his internal party workings.”

Arguing that the developments do not make independence more likely, the spokesperson added:

“What binds our countries together so strongly is not the Tory Party, but out shared history, culture and future. The vast majority of scots are against separating Scotland away from the rest of the UK.  Separation remains a minority sport.”

While Labour will continue to argue that the UK enjoy ties far stronger than a UK-wide Conservative party, it is because of Scotland’s alienation and lack of a shared identify or vision with the current UK Government that independence remains a very real threat. 

Minority sport it might be, but given the absence of a credible, big beast from the Labour party to take on Alex Salmond, it is a sport that he will continue to play at every turn.

And as SNP MSP, Stuart Maxwell, concludes:

“Scotland wants a parliament that is working hard to build a better future, to create jobs and grow the economy.

“While opposition parties spend their time in internal leadership wrangles the SNP will next week set out a positive programme for government that will address the concerns of voters across Scotland and take this country forward.”

Although the announcement by Labour’s deputy leader in Holyrood,  Johann Lamont, that she intends to run for the leadership is a sign of a contest beginning to get going, for all her skills and abilities, many will be asking Johann who?

If Alex Salmond and the SNP are to be beaten, in the absence of credible Liberal Democrat or Conservative parties in Scotland – particularly after Murdo Fraser’s latest ideas – it is time for Labour to wake up, smell the coffee and get a leader with the profile, communication abilities and stature needed to show Scotland and the SNP that for Labour, Holyrood isn’t second fiddle to Westminster.

Labour in Scotland needs to show that getting a Labour Scottish first minister carries equal weight to getting Ed Miliband elected as prime minister, that saving the union is now their number one campaigning priority in Scotland. The consequences of not doing so could be immense.

With recent polling showing a continuation in the SNP’s honeymoon since May’s elections, Murdo Fraser’s big idea is a gift to the SNP and the independence movement.

It is now beholden on Labour to come up with a clear, progressive case against it with a leader that can lead a credible anti-independence movement.

So far, little progress has been made in this direction.

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