LOCAL Conservative councillors have been making their views known on the party’s leadership election, with two out of three opting to back current Deputy Leader Murdo Fraser for the top job.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Fraser; Glasgow MSP Ruth Davidson; West of Scotland MSP Jackson Carlaw and Central Scotland MSP Margaret Mitchell are contesting the post, with Fraser and Davidson widely regarded as front-runners.
The Fraser campaign, which proposes to scrap the Scottish Conservative brand altogether in favour of a new, fully-autonomous Scottish right of centre party advocating greater powers for Holyrood, has attracted strong criticism from other candidates, all of whom wish to ‘draw a line in the sand’ regarding further powers for Holyrood while keeping a direct link to the UK Conservatives.
Newly-elected Davidson is believed to be the favoured candidate of both outgoing leader Annabel Goldie and Prime Minister David Cameron, who see her as representing a fresh and modern face. Meanwhile, former party chairman Carlaw has struggled to make an impact, with his petition to ‘save’ the Scottish Conservative party attracting only a handful of signatures from supporters. He is also thought to have been damaged in some eyes by his failure to capture the Eastwood seat from Labour, despite boundary changes which on paper made it one of the Conservatives’ safest Scottish seats.
Late entrant Margaret Mitchell is the sole candidate to oppose the Scotland Bill implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission - a position which may find favour with a significant portion of the membership.
Inverurie & District Councillor Richard Cowling said “I think Murdo Fraser is probably the best choice, but it would have been better had he not made rash comments about party reform and instead sought backing for it afterwards.
“Given the party’s recent anti-AV campaign, it would have been better if the election were conducted by First Past The Post, rather than a manipulative transfer system. That way, the new leader would have a clearer mandate.”
Ellon & District Councillor Gillian Owen said “I have not made up my mind yet and would like to meet and hear them all first. I may be putting something on my website asking for locals to let me have their views.”
Mid Formartine Councillor Jim Gifford said he would listen to all the candidates, but was likely to back Fraser. “I’ve known Murdo for a long number of years and I like what he’s been saying so far”, he said. “The party needs some new radical thinking.”
The new leader will be elected by the party’s 10,000 strong membership, which will rank candidates in order of preference. As such, the winning candidate is likely to be the one who can garner the widest appeal across the party when it comes to picking up second and third preference votes.