Who'll be driving the Scottish Tory bus?

Ballot papers for the Scottish Tory leadership went out last week and there are four credible candidates. Iain McGill gives his opinions on each.

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Can anybody pip Murdo Fraser to the post?
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Iain McGill
On 19 October 2011 08:26

Well, what an exciting time to be a Scottish Conservative!

Ballot papers for our leadership election went out last week and we've four very credible candidates going at it hammer and tongs.

We've been leading the news agenda - nationally - as we look to revive ourselves as a credible, winning force.

In the aftermath of Salmond winning a majority, Ian Gray, Annabel Goldie and that bloke who led the Lib Dems all stood down.

It was a poor day at the polls for all three of the parties - and leaders have to be held accountable.

The Lib Dems quickly and quietly replaced their leader with another without much debate or media scrutiny.

Labour are going through the motions of an election, but are struggling to come up with anything exciting contest-wise. Ed Miliband very publicly had another of his awkward Ed moments when he failed to remember the names of the leadership candidates in their debate.

But the Tories are leading the way in showing how a contest should be run.

In reverse order, in this STV (oh the irony) election, my fourth preference is the early front runner who has since slipped to being the bookies’ second favourite; the establishment favourite, and far and away the most popular with Tories south of the border, with the backing of Francis Maude, Norman blooming Tebbit, Tim Montgomerie and Fraser Nelson.

Murdo Fraser kicked the campaign off in great style - an emailed press release late on a Saturday night and dominating the UK airwaves all Sunday got the country talking about the Scottish Conservatives.

Sadly for Murdo, for this party member and activist, his pitch hits the wrong note entirely.

When he talks about being ashamed and embarrassed of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist brand I don't identify. For me the issue on the doorstep has not been our party name - it's been our policies, our strategy and our leadership.

For better or for worse, no matter how hard Murdo tries to distance himself from it, he has been a key part of that leadership, setting the policy and strategy that we've been struggling to sell to the electorate.

At early hustings Murdo quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity - repeating the same actions and expecting different results. He applied this logic to the party name. Activists up and down the country are, like me, applying it much more to his leadership.

The Scottish electorate, rightly or wrongly, preferred Salmond and Swinney to Annabel and Murdo in the last two elections. To go into a third election pitching Murdo against Salmond and Swinney, just with a new letterhead, seems to me to be, well, insane.

My third preference is Margaret Mitchell who, like Murdo, added some quality drama to the election contest with her late, late nomination.

Margaret wants the Scotland Bill stopped - though I feel she's too late to be able to achieve that at this stage (it's in the latter stages of passing through the Lords). She wants to focus on campaigning harder across the country and bring an end to the paper candidates that have been prevalent in recent elections. That is going down well.

She's coming in third for me, but as she firmly refutes Murdo’s stance on a new party and devolving ever more powers to Holyrood, she's in ahead of him!

My second preference at the moment is Jackson Carlaw and I have to say he has blown the members away at our hustings up and down the country.

I have been part of the team live blogging for ToryHoose at the hustings -- ToryHoose is one of the positives to come from this contest -- and when we test reactions as to who has performed best it's usually Jackson (though when we poll voting intentions as opposed to performance it's clear that Jackson is trailing behind Murdo & Ruth).

I like Jackson’s plans for the party. Term limits for MSPs opens up clear opportunities for progression for ambitious, talented candidates. No running for Westminster whilst an MSP does the same. It also focuses the minds of our current MSPs.

An open policy making strategy – in which policy is no longer made by a clique of MSPs in their Holyrood bubble - tapping into the knowledge and wealth of experience within our party and then stress testing the policy by bringing outsiders in to argue it out, is long overdue.

Not being scared of the "awkward squad" who have strong views that go against the mainstream consensus on issues that might include Europe, a flat tax or climate change is again overdue.

Jackson speaks convincingly about the need for a generational change within the party and sets out exactly how he will implement it. I like his plans, his plain talking; he has real attraction.

Talking of generational change, that leads me on to my first preference.

Ruth Davidson has my support as the person best placed to take the party forwards. She embodies the generational change I think the party needs to see. With an impressive CV to hand – a successful career outside of politics as a journalist and producer in her own right as well as having served in the TA – she also has impressive Conservative instincts: small government, low taxes, defending the union.

Her policy priorities are also distinctly Conservative: backing free schools, introducing a full life in prison tariff, cutting business rates. She is solid on the issues that matter.

Ruth is the one talking about a ten year plan to take us to power - a realistic timescale to get there.

There is no fancy fix along the lines of changing our name so that dumb and dumber won’t realise that we're the Tories.

Instead, she identifies specific things that we can do that we've not been doing: driving up membership, taking Social Action seriously as opposed to a photo opportunity, encouraging our young members and students by offering them more than delivery runs in the rain. 

But she refutes the idea that we have to be a separate party to pursue Scottish policies. Boris Johnson very clearly stands up for London, but within the party structure of the Conservative and Unionist Party. We can do this in Scotland. 

If we're all Thatcher’s children she's a very young one - she was six months old when Thatcher came to power and still in primary school when she stood down. It's hard to pin the blame on a primary school kid, so Ruth as leader can put the Thatcher legacy to bed.

So there you go. Four great candidates, a lot of interest so far, and we've still a few weeks till the results are known.

I’ve given you my favourite, but as for my prediction, well, it’s a win for Ruth Davidson on transfers - after Margaret Mitchell first, then Jackson Carlaw are knocked out - and a newly invigorated Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party leading the fight against independence. 

Iain McGill is an Edinburgh based businessman who has stood several times for the Scottish Conservatives, and is one of the activists involved with the www.toryhoose.com blog. 

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