Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Doing a Portillo?

It's a sure sign of just how completely I managed to switch off from Scottish politics while I was in Italy that I've only just caught up with the news (from fifteen days ago!) that Murdo Fraser wants (seemingly, possibly, ambiguously) to replace the Scottish Tory party with a new, autonomous, unashamedly pro-devolution centre-right force. This, it should go without saying, is the first semblance of strategic sense we've heard from a leading Scottish Tory since...oooh, about 1982, and is also a very rare instance of the interests of the Tories and of Scotland coinciding. The fact that the idea has brought Alan Cochrane out in a rash is testament enough to that.

But initially I couldn't help wondering if Fraser was making the same fatal mistake that Michael Portillo made ten years ago, ie. expounding his radical plans for change during the leadership campaign, rather than following the more cynical Blair path of saying nothing very much during the campaign, and then bouncing the party into an internal revolution immediately afterwards. However, that comparison doesn't quite work - the leader of the Scottish Tories isn't the master of all he or she surveys in the way that a UK party leader is, and therefore Fraser needs his clear-cut mandate for a new party from the word go. So he's doing the right thing, and for all our sakes we can only hope that Kate Higgins' confident forecast from a few weeks ago that Ruth Davidson was near-enough certain to win was wrong. Personally, I think Ms Davidson is a touch on the insufferable side anyway, but when has that ever been a barrier to rising to the top of the Scottish Tory ranks?


  1. However, that comparison doesn't quite work - the leader of the Scottish Tories isn't the master of all he or she surveys in the way that a UK party leader is...

    In order for Murdo to get to be regional manager in Scotland two things have to happen. The Sanderson Review has to be passed to create the post of regional manager for the Tories in Scotland and Murdo has to win the election to be regional manager.

    The interesting point is that the Sanderson Review was very much against a break with the Conservative party in Scotland so that Murdo's post, (if he gets it), will be created by a review which was dead against what Murdo is proposing.
    Ha, Ha © Nelson Muntz.

    If Murdo wins he has to convince the rest of the Conservative party members in Scotland to resign from the Conservative party and start a new one.

    If Murdo loses he can't stay in the Conservative party so he will resign and form a new party with his loyal band of merry persons.

    If Murdo loses and Ruth Davidson wins then the backwoodsmen in the party might resign anyway and form a new party.....

    It's going to be fun, games and essential viewing with a bag of popcorn.

  2. As Doug and I discussed over at Munguin's Republic:


    It seems possible that:

    If Ruth wins, there will undoubtedly be some of the party who will find that they do not wish to serve under her. She promises "no change" on devolution.

    Clearly Murdo is looking for more devolution including fiscal independence. There can't be any place for Murdo in a party that will not change, and of which he has already said he is ashamed.

    Murdo is not without support from young Tories who want to see a new Scottish Unionist Right.

    So you've got two parties.

    But there must surely be, at least a small number of people who would find Ruth's lifestyle (she lives with a same sex partner), and/or her lack of age and experience unacceptable, but who also do not wish to move into a new party detached from their beloved Conservative party and pro devolution max.

    They would want to be part of David Cameron's party, but not under a young gay woman. And so you have a third group under Jackson Carlaw.

    From the third party, you might therefore have three rump parties with no real influence, and not even able to vote together on so much of the parliament's business.

  3. Tris, I presume if Fraser were to win and then get the necessary backing for a new party, Cameron would have to grudgingly give his blessing, in which case the dissidents wouldn't be able to carry on as official Scottish Tories, however much they'd like to. On the other hand, if Davidson wins my guess is that Fraser will sullenly stay in the party, as he'd know that (paradoxically) a new centre-right force that wasn't the official successor party to the Tories wouldn't be a runner. The messiest outcome will be if Fraser becomes leader but his plan is subsequently voted down - heaven only knows what would happen then!

  4. James,

    Even if Cameron gave his blessing to the new party they couldn't expel the current Conservative members in Scotland based on where they live if the members didn't want to go.

    Labour tried something similar when they tried to keep UK citizens living in Northern Ireland out of Labour but they got defeated in court.

    Cameron perhaps could force the Conservatives not to run candidates against Murdo's new party but I'm not sure if he has that power over local associations and that would also cause ructions in the Conservative party.

    As you say, if Murdo wins the election but fails to get the idea of his new party off the ground then the Conservatives will have a leader who think they are a poisonous brand. I wonder if he'll immediately resign in that case? As I said it looks like fun.