WELL THE ELECTION is over and the Scottish Tories have had their new leader for a week.
Richard Cook’s analysis published here on Monday is, I fear, written more from a conciliatory standpoint than an objective one.
The election campaign was hard fought and invigorating to many but also hugely divisive and wounding as well. Take for example the early unwarranted and unsubstantiated attack on Fraser’s election record by John Lamont and the refusal by the Party to allow independent scrutiny of the ballot despite a donor offering to meet the cost.
Rumours abound of very senior people at Conservative headquarters actively canvassing for support and money for Davidson whilst members of the Government broke with convention and openly decried Fraser’s proposals and publically supported Davidson, a situation unheard of in my memory.
David Mundell in particular had given his solemn oath that he would not intervene, then did so in a blaze of publicity at the Conservative Conference – and has been rewarded by being appointed Party Chairman
The end result was not a decisive victory, since Davidson was only 3.21% ahead on first preferences of a deeply divided party. Further, whilst we can only speculate how the votes were distributed geographically it is a reasonable assumption that looking at first preferences Fraser’s support was strongest in the area north of the central belt and perhaps in Edinburgh whereas Davidson’s would logically be from south west and south east Scotland, with Carlaw scoring well in his home territory and surprisingly in Glasgow, and Mitchell‘s support coming largely from her own patch in Lanarkshire.
This may yet provide significant problems for the management under the new regional command structure envisaged by the Sanderson proposals. A further assumption might be that Fraser was backed strongly by activists across the whole country whilst Davidson’s support was largely amongst the county set and the elderly who may turn up to the odd wine and cheese but who, come election time, are invariably inflicted with gout or are cruising the Med.
How then does the new leader begin the task of uniting a party so deeply divided? Of course the party will publicly show a demonstration of unity and there will be musings about how cathartic and invigorating the whole process has been. Supine local Associations will roll over and pledge her their troth. Rarely, however has a politician accumulated so many enemies and potential enemies on her own side in a parliamentary career of six months. Your opponents sit opposite you, while your enemies sit behind you goes the apocryphal quote to a young parliamentarian at Westminster and it applies in Holyrood too. No one does internecine warfare better than the Tories. One needs only to look back at the leadership of IDS to find an uncomfortable parallel.
Once the media circus move on and any resignations become the contents of tomorrow’s recycling box the real problem will be the committed supporters of Fraser whom I suggest will, over the coming years, just quietly cancel their standing orders and vote with their feet.
As part of her early pitch Davidson said it would take 10 years to restore the Tories fortunes. Sadly she will not be given anything like that time.
The first big test will be in May next year where anything less than a 20% increase in the vote will be a failure. At the same time a clear strategy for winning the referendum will need to put in place along with funding to match Salmond's several million pounds war chest. The Tories must have command of the campaign for a No vote and lead it not trail the Lib Dems and Labour. In the same timescale clear opinion poll evidence will be required to show that argument is being won.
Anything less is likely to see corporate Scotland take charge of the debate itself and divert funding away from the Tories.
Perhaps some lessons for the new leader in ice climbing from the noble lord, Baron Forsyth of Drumlean, might be more useful than her kickboxing of the past.