Elizabeth Smith is Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and the Scottish Party's education spokesman. A much shorter version of this article appeared in this morning's Scotsman.
Like all of my colleagues and every other Conservative voter in the recent Scottish Election, I was bitterly disappointed at the outcome. Make no mistake about the extent of that disappointment or about the deep-seated frustration which accompanies it, because, whether we like it or not, we have consistently failed to get our act fully together when it comes to making electoral progress. And, I know I speak for a large number of people, both inside and outside the party, when I say that enough is enough.
There is only one option open to us, and that is to be brutally honest with ourselves about why we are not doing better, act upon it, and change – for good.
The first stage in that process has been the Sanderson Review which has opened up new channels for some very plain speaking. And plenty of plain speaking there has been; about our party organisation, leadership structures, about policy-making and campaigning and about our inability to broaden our appeal. The findings of the review have been a salutary lesson, which tell us that all the previous attempts at revival have not worked. Put simply; if you don’t get the votes, you will not win elections.
That first stage – an accurate diagnosis if you like – was extremely important. There is little hope of moving forward if you can’t admit to the problems. The second stage, however, is even more important, and that is the current leadership campaign which follows the decision of Annabel Goldie to stand down this autumn. This campaign gives the party exactly the right opportunity to debate what we do now; how we can become a modern and effective force in Scottish politics that will once again capture the public’s imagination.
For me, three things matter. Firstly, our party needs to be capable of winning again, Secondly, it needs to attract voters from a much wider cross-section of Scottish society, and, thirdly, there needs to be a clear commitment to and vision about how we will strengthen the United Kingdom.
One of these things on its own is not enough. We need to achieve all three, and to do so, I believe we need to be radical in our approach; not more of the same, and hoping that, given time, “our time will come” in the opinion polls. Because the blunt message is – and we all need to understand this – that they won’t, unless we can prove we have really changed and that we fully understand the dynamics of modern Scottish politics. And these dynamics are changing fast in terms of the size of the economic challenge, a new Scotland Bill, the forthcoming referendum and the need for reform of our public services.
Over the last few months, like many other colleagues, I have thought long and hard about the future. I have talked to many people both inside and outside the party and a very large number of them tell me they want radical change.
Today, I am declaring my support for Murdo Fraser.
Why? Because I believe he has the radical agenda which can once again make us a strong force in Scottish politics; not just in the words or the spin that might see him get elected leader, but a firm commitment to a radical new agenda. As well as these ideas, his passion and conviction impress me, he has very considerable political and parliamentary experience, formidable debating powers which are recognised by the media and the other parties in the Scottish Parliament, as well as by the general public; and these are debating skills which, I believe, will prove vitally important especially at the time of a crucial referendum on Scotland’s future.
I leave it to Murdo at his forthcoming campaign launch, to provide the detail of what, I believe, will be seen as the most radical agenda this party has ever known; his plans for ensuring that devolution and a new, stronger unionism are not mutually exclusive, but, instead, as a coherent political strategy for a much stronger United Kingdom and a more successful Scotland which will be more attractive to business, to entrepreneurs and to all those who know that we must do more to improve the delivery of our public services and reward those who work hard and who pay their taxes. Be in no doubt about Murdo’s belief in the need for reform; reform to our education system, reform of the delivery of our health services, of local government and of making sure that Scotland is open for business.
Murdo will also set out his plans for how we can ensure our party is once again at the cutting edge of campaigning and professional organisation and how we can attract the widespread financial support which is required to run any modern political party.
Leadership of any political party is not easy. It takes courage and vision; it takes experience and good judgment. I have no doubt there are others who could do a good job, but for me, and, I know, for many others, Murdo has got what it takes to make us electable again. I offer him my full support.