by a Newsnet reporter
Scottish Tory leadership candidate Murdo Fraser’s campaign came under a sustained and ferocious attack on Monday from the party’s largest business donor, Sir Jack Harvie. Sir Jack is one of the main funders of a front company called Focus on Scotland which acts as a channel for business donations to the Conservative party. The central plank of Mr Fraser’s campaign is to wind up the Scottish Conservatives and replace them with a newly rebranded party which would be in “electoral alliance” with the Conservatives south of the Border.
In an email to rival candidate, Glasgow MSP Ruth Davidson, the party donor and fundraiser rules out the possibility of making any donations to a new centre right party, saying that he and his organisation “would not entertain” any approach for funding from a new party. Focus on Scotland is understood to have donated over £1 million to the Conservatives during the past 3 years.
Sir Jack slates Mr Fraser’s plan to dissolve the Scottish Conservatives as “presumptuous” and claims that he has “scandalised” party members. Sir Jack angrily rejected the idea that the party leader has the authority to wind up the party, saying that ought to be a matter for individual party members to decide.
Most damagingly of all, Sir Jack cast doubt on whether Mr Fraser could continue within the Conservative party should he fail in his leadership bid, saying that Mr Fraser and his supporters would “have no place” within the party in the future. Prominent supporters of Mr Fraser include Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith the party’s education spokeswoman, Alex Fergusson, previously presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Conservatives’ sole Member of the European Parliament, Struan Stevenson.
Sir Jack’s strongly worded remarks raise the possibility that whoever is elected as party leader, the Scottish Conservatives risk fracturing into two.
Ruth Davidson agreed that Mr Fraser’s proposals would be damaging for the Scottish Conservatives. It is expected that Ms Davidson will formally announce her candidacy for the leadership later this week.
West of Scotland MSP Jackson Carlaw, who announced last week that he was also standing for the leadership, Mr Fraser’s idea name was a miscalculated and an example of “Holyrood ivory tower” politics.
Mr Carlaw said: “We stopped being the Tory Party in 1841 – 170 years later, despite our name change, we are still known as the Scottish Tories.”
He added: “I want to unite the party behind a recovery led by the sustained development of policies which will make a difference.”
In reaction to the email from his party’s leading donor, Mr Fraser expressed his disappointment but claimed that others within the Scottish business community were in support of his plans.
He said: “I can tell you that among existing donors to the party there is a deep sense of disillusionment, that the money that they have given to the party in recent years has not been well spent.
“They have been paying for successive campaigns with absolutely no political progress and there is a great deal of appetite for a new centre-right force in Scotland amongst people in the business community.”
However Mr Fraser also highlighted the depths of the plight in which the Conservatives now found themselves in Scotland and again stressed the need for drastic and radical change saying: “There is no future for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party in its current form. It is, without exaggeration, adapt or die. It’s time to try something different, a bold new direction … [We] will build a new movement to bring back the thousands of people who have left us over the years.”
Speaking in response to the civil war which appears to be breaking out within Conservative ranks, SNP MSP John Wilson said last night: “The Conservatives either have someone who wants the bring the party into at least the 20th century, or someone who wants to take the Tories back to the Thatcher years. The Tories in Scotland have never understood the Scottish voters aversion to Thatcherite Conservatism and the impact on Scotland during that era on what damage they inflicted on the Scottish people, Poll Tax, closure of pits and steel works throughout Scotland and the economic devastation on many communities.”
The full text of Sir Jack Harvie’s email reads:
“It would be interesting, in fact it would be necessary, to know in terms of openness and transparency from whom Mr Fraser expects to receive funding to finance his separatist political group.
“We are talking here of the need to find £1m a year to run any new political organisation, comparable to the existing SCUP, in order to fund the numerous election campaigns – General Elections, Scottish Parliamentary Elections, European Parliamentary Elections and Local Government Elections – in which Mr Fraser’s Party would have to be actively involved.
“There certainly has been no approach to us from the UK Conservative Party to consider redirecting funding to Mr Fraser’s separatist group. Nor do we expect one. Nor would we be likely to react favourably to any such approach. Nor would we entertain any direct approach from Mr Fraser.
“Indeed, it is presumptuous of Mr Fraser, were he to be elected leader of the SCUP, to confuse his election as empowering him to dissolve SCUP. He would have no such authority. That would be for the individual members of the Party to decide.
“Those Scottish Conservatives not wishing to follow Mr Fraser into his separatist political group can expect Focus on Scotland to continue funding the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
“Moreover, one is entitled to ask if Mr Fraser does not win the leadership election will he and his supporters proceed to form a breakaway party?
“For having scandalised SCUP by word and deed they would surely have no place within SCUP in the future!
“And for that matter, given his intention to form a breakaway Party why would Mr Fraser choose to stand for the leadership of a party he does not support or recognise?”