by a Newsnet reporter
Murdo Fraser’s ambition of reforming and rebranding the ‘toxic’ Scottish Conservatives lay in tatters last night as the party narrowly voted to elect rival Ruth Davidson as leader. Ms Davidson won by 2,983 votes to 2,417 after the second-choice votes had been allocated from the two last placed candidates Jackson Carlaw and Margaret Mitchell.
Reportedly around 8,500 ballots were issued to the party’s ageing Scottish membership. The low number of ballots returned gives an indication of the party’s weakness and lack of an active membership base.
Whoever won the election would have had a tough job to overturn the Conservatives’ long Scottish decline, however Ms Davidson enters the job with a divided party which has just experienced a bitter and bad-tempered leadership election campaign.
Sir Jack Harvie, a prominent supporter of Ms Davidson and major funder for the party in Scotland, stated during the campaign that there could be no place for Mr Fraser and his supporters in the party. Mr Fraser wanted to disband the Scottish Conservative Party and start a new centre right party in its place and had attracted the support of former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the majority of the party’s MSPs. His ideas also gained the support of almost half the party’s membership.
Ruth Davidson is widely seen as the ‘no-change’ candidate. She is politically inexperienced, having been an MSP only since the May election. She as yet has articulated no coherent plan to ‘save the Union’ or turn round the party’s fortunes but is conscious of the need to unite her party’s fractuous membership. In her acceptance speech Ms Davidson said:
“A political party is not a leader, a political party is its membership and I want to bring our members at all levels much closer together in our party going forward and to take our party forward in unity.”
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed his party’s new leader in Scotland.
He said: “I am delighted to congratulate Ruth on winning this leadership election and look forward to working with her to strengthen the Union and build a better future for Scotland.”
First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond MSP congratuled Ms Davidson on her victory and said:
“Congratulations to Ruth Davidson on her success, and I wish her well. My own view is that Annabel Goldie was a highly successful leader for the Conservatives in Scotland, and maximised the Tory vote here.
“That merely underlines the scale of the task for Ruth Davidson in motivating her party – as does the number of Scottish Tory members who actually voted in this contest, and the fact that her main opponent proposed winding up the party.
“Hopefully, under Ruth’s leadership, the Tories will change their attitude to Scotland and start to work in the country’s best interests.”