By Tim Montgomerie
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According to radio reports Lord Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary, has described the idea as "ludicrous". The idea – long supported by ConservativeHome – is to form a new centre right party in Scotland. Four years ago it was an idea that Cameron almost embraced but was strongly opposed by Annabel Goldie and other leading figures in the Scottish party. Now, however, Murdo Fraser MSP, the leading candidate to succeed Ms Goldie, is advocating the idea and it led this morning's Radio 4 bulletins and is the splash in The Sunday Telegraph.
Formally launching his campaign tomorrow Mr Fraser will promise “a new party for a new Scotland”:
“If I am elected as leader of the party, I will turn it into a new and stronger party for Scotland. A new party. A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life. A new belief in devolution. A new approach to policy-making. A new name. But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom. A new party. A new unionism. A new dawn."
It is not known if David Cameron supports the change but he has been informed of the intention. Half of the Tory MSP group has already backed Murdo Fraser's leadership bid and they have also backed his plan to close the Scottish Conservative Party and form a new identity. Opposing the move Lord Forsyth says:
"I think it is naive and simplistic in the extreme to think that changing the name of the party and cutting it adrift from the rest of the Conservative Party could somehow bring electoral success. In fact, electoral success is delivered by having credible policies. I think the strategy is one of appeasement of the nationalists and I think it is one that will fail. Any policy which appeases nationalists is damaging to the union by definition.”
Lord Forsyth is being simplistic in his attack. It is of course true that a name change won't be enough to produce a transformation but it is vital that the Scottish people believe that the new party's policies are made in Scotland, for Scotland. For too long the Scottish Conservatives have been seen as a branch of the London party and that's been fatal. The "ludicrous" path, to use Lord Forsyth's word, would be to carry on the same path. The Tories haven't won more than one MP in Scotland for two decades. Our vote hasn't been slowly improving over the years but is still falling. The new party would be an ally of the wider Conservative Party in the same way the Bavarian CSU is an ally of the CDU in the rest of Germany. The new Scottish party would have many policies that would overlap with the rest of the Conservative Party but it would have more specifically Scottish policies, too. And as Scotland on Sunday points out, a new name and identity isn't an abandonment of a great history but a return to a great history:
"Many of the elderly Scottish Tory membership will remember the heady days of 1955 – the last time a right-wing party had a Scottish majority. Back then, the antecedents of today's Scottish Tories – the Unionist Party – held 36 of the 71 Scottish seats at Westminster. Before it merged with the UK Conservative Party to become the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, it had been a distinctly Scottish, autonomous right-wing party. Sound familiar?"
Is the Unionist Party the right name for the party Mr Fraser wants to create? Other ideas roadtested by ConHome in 2006 were Scottish Reform Party and Scottish Freedom Party.