Politics in Scotland is never dull, and that is particularly true for Scottish Conservative politics. The future of our party will be debated at the party conference starting today in Manchester and, no less vigorously, at leadership hustings throughout Scotland in the coming weeks.
The central thrust of this four-candidate contest can rightly be characterised as being about real change. I don’t think anyone within or outside our party in Scotland would disagree with the statement that the party must change, and in particular, we must attract more people to vote for us across Scotland as a whole.
We must be clearly identifiable as the choice for those who want to vote for a sensible centre-right party of the sort that exists – and commands support – in virtually every other European country.
In so doing, we must be able to demonstrate that we are relevant and make a difference to the lives of people in Scotland if they vote for us at council, Scottish Parliament, Westminster and European elections. That is why I want to see the leadership election focus on policy, leadership qualities and on the campaigning style our party will have in Scotland to take us forward.
However, I want to make clear my view that any change that takes place must be in the context of the existing Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
I cannot support the disbanding of our party and setting up a new one. Not least it is a betrayal of our stalwart members and activists and the 420,000 people who voted Conservative at the UK General Election. Those people who, whether or not, they directly elect members of Parliament, want to contribute to the formation of a UK Conservative Government.
I had intended to remain neutral in this election contest, given my unique position as our only MP, and a Government Minister, but I now believe I cannot continue to remain silent on the issue
I believe that the prospect of the winding-up of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the emergence of another party in Scotland and the potential for a serious split is too great a threat simply to stand by and let happen without expressing an opinion.
There is a tendency to think that when things are not good that they cannot get worse, but they can.
Over the past 20 years Conservatives, in Scotland, have at least played a part in the UK Government when in power. They have formed a significant and influential group in the Scottish Parliament. They lead or are significant players in many councils across Scotland.
Don’t let us destroy that; let’s make radical changes, but let’s do so on the basis that our party not only survives, but prospers and that we can turn our attention, as soon as we can, from ourselves to the issues which really face Scotland; the biggest of which is ensuring that those people who want Scotland to be part of Britain can make a coherent, logical and winning case in the independence referendum looming.
We need a leader in Scotland who can play a part in that campaign ahead; someone who can consistently challenge Alex Salmond; can perform well in the media and can attract new and particularly younger people to our party.
That is why I will be supporting Ruth Davidson in this leadership election. I believe not only will she prevent the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party from being wound up, she also offers the energy, leadership and vision to take us forward; to be a champion for our party; a champion for Scotland and a champion for the United Kingdom.
I ask all those of a like mind to support Ruth in the leadership election.
I am proud to take the Conservative Whip at Westminster. And while at the last three general elections we have returned only one Member of Parliament from Scotland, I have been able to play a full part in the Westminster party both in opposition and in Government.
At the next UK election I want to see a majority Conservative government. I don’t want a coalition, not with the Liberal Democrats, not with some new party that sets up to take over from the Conservatives in Scotland. I am proud to be a Conservative, and, therefore, if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected in 2015, I will be taking the Conservative Whip, not entering into coalition negotiations as proposed by some who want a new party.
That is why it is quite wrong to suggest that what is being proposed is the equivalent of the party structure prior to 1965. Sir Alex Douglas Hume took the Conservative Whip and became Prime Minister. He didn’t enter into negotiations between Scotland and London as to the terms on which he did so, and I certainly don’t intend to do so either.
In Scotland, we should fight the UK General Election on reserved issues on the basis of a Conservative manifesto; not as part of some separate party. We should come to the party conferences as delegates not as observers and we should have the right to vote for the UK leader we want to be our Prime Minister.
That’s exactly what our colleagues in Wales do. They have transformed the party’s fortunes in Wales – and they didn’t do it by disbanding the party and setting up a new one.
In my view, it is also hopelessly naive to believe that by simply changing our name that we will attract thousands of new supporters.