The shadow cabinet meets in Edinburgh today and Annabel Goldie, Scottish Tory leader, will promise a £100m programme of drug rehabilitation as a flagship policy for the party’s drive for progress in May’s elections. For Alan Cochrane, the visit of the top Tory team is a "publicity stunt" and a "real slap in the face for Annabel Goldie": "That the entire United Kingdom leadership has to head north to try and ginger up the party’s prospects demonstrates in the starkest manner possible that Mr Cameron has run out of patience with the lacklustre way the party is run here". There has certainly been little Cameron effect in Scotland. Conservatives are consistently in fourth position in Scottish opinion polls and one recent poll gave the Tories just 13% support. As noted yesterday with the party flatlining in Yorkshire, the impact of Cameron appears to get weaker the greater the distance from the home counties. This issue was acknowledged by Mrs Goldie yesterday:
"What we all accept is that the effect David has had on the electorate does begin to get a little less as you head north through England, so actually you’ll find that there’s really no difference between the situation in Scotland and frankly an area of England north of the Midlands."
Mrs Goldie suggested that David Cameron is received like superstar George Clooney when he visits Scotland but his visit is likely to be overshadowed by his remarks yesterday, when he said that the Conservative party had failed Scotland over the last ten to fifteen years. "Every European country has a sensible, centre-right alternative to the left," he told The Herald, "and I think there have been times where we haven’t been there enough for the Scottish people, and we need to make sure we are."
A feature in The Scotsman offers some ideas to revive Scottish Tories’ fortunes (summarised in the box on the right) but a leader in the newspaper suggests that a "grand gesture to re-establish their local credibility" might also be necessary. One option, it notes, "is to consider being an autonomous organisation, much as the Bavarian CSU is an independent party, but in alliance with the German CDU." A ConservativeHome poll earlier this year found Tory members (across the whole of the UK) evenly divided on adopting this German model. Also in The Scotsman George Kerevan expands on this idea, in an open letter to the Tory leader:
"The implosion of support for what we call the Scottish Conservatives can only be understood if we realise that this party did not actually exist prior to 1965. Before then, there was something called the Scottish Unionist Party (SUP), and it was a wholly autonomous organisation that thrived on its local roots. The contemporary absence of a viable, Scottish right-of-centre political force is not the result of Maggie Thatcher or some inbuilt, collectivist conscience in the Scots middle class. Rather, it is because the London-based Conservatives of the Sixties were daft enough to crush the SUP and merge its rump into the English Tory organisation…
If the rump of what are called the Scottish Conservatives wants to get back in the political game, it has only one choice – the kind of bold step that you, David, are taking with the Tories down south. Refreshing the right-of-centre (but still radical) brand means making the party wholly autonomous in Scotland and giving it a new name – shall we say, the Scottish Progressives? In other words, reversing the disastrous merger – forced takeover, actually – of 1965."