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Top Conservatives demand Scots leadership election in six months

Leading Tories have delivered a damning review of the party’s leadership and structure in Scotland.

The review, led by party grandee Lord Sanderson, will not make pleasant reading for Holyrood leader Annabel Goldie.

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It calls for the replacement of “the weak leadership and governance framework with a streamlined, transparent and accountable structure”.

The report says there is confusion over roles and responsibilities, contributing “significantly to what is seen widely to be a lack of clarity of leadership, accountability and decision-making”.

There was no clear vision for the party’s future and no clear strategy for its delivery, it said.

The review, which was set up in the wake of the General Election after the party managed to hold on to just one seat in Scotland, said the party was frustrated by its performance.

Lord Sanderson said the report had been titled Building for Scotland “because that is what the Scottish Conservatives must do”.

A key recommendation is that there should be a distinct political leader of the Scottish party, and this person need not be an MSP.

It suggests a leadership election should take place directly after the Scottish Parliament elections in May and a leadership challenge could be triggered if called for by 1000 members.

The report is also scathing about the operations of constituency associations across the country, saying there is real cause for concern about their organisational strength with many of them “in effect moribund”.

There is also withering criticism of how the party in Scotland goes about forming policy with no formal structure or process for including the views of members and other groups.

It says: “As a result, party members feel disenfranchised over policy formation and think-tanks and other third parties feel there is not enough engagement from the party in Scotland.”

It recommends introducing balloted motions and open debates at party conferences.

While the remit of the Commission did not include policy, it said a priority recommendation must be “on the issue of fiscal devolution”. Members of the Commission said they could not ignore the quantity of submissions on whether Scotland should have greater fiscal accountability. It was of “enormous significance” and needed to be discussed fully between both the Scottish Conservatives and the UK party, they said.

One suggestion that had been mooted, a change of name, was rejected, but Lord Sanderson acknowledged there was a perception that the majority of the electorate did not understand what the party stood for and thought it was anti-Scottish.

The report said: “With regard to the Scottish Conservatives brand, the problem is not the party’s name or logo, but its failure to convey clearly and consistently what it believes in and stands for.”

Ms Goldie said: “Scotland has now had the experience of nearly 12 years of devolution and just as I argued that there had to be a review of devolution to ensure that it was fit for practical purpose, so I backed the plan to review our party to ensure that we are fit for political purpose.”

She said she agreed with the review’s broad principles, “which chart a way forward building upon our strengths, being honest about our difficulties and optimistic about our future”.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray, who is defending the Tory target seat of Dumfries, said: “The tensions between their Scottish and UK party are clear to see and it is a personal shame for Annabel Goldie that she is being made the scapegoat for the unpopular policies of her colleagues.”

SNP spokesman Kenneth Gibson said: “This is deeply damaging for Annabel Goldie, who will face the May election as a lame duck leader facing a leadership challenge as soon as May’s votes are cast.”

A Conservative spokesman said the criticisms were not aimed at Ms Goldie but at the leadership structure in Scotland.


Sanderson Recommendations:

- Replace the weak leadership and governance framework

- Elect a Scottish leader to have overall responsibility for the party’s performance in Scotland

- Develop a clear and distinctive Conservative vision for Scotland

- Introduce balloted motions and debate at party conference

- Increase support for local associations

- Create regional campaign centres staffed by professionals

- Recruit a chief policy adviser

- Overhaul candidate selection and reform MSP ranking system

- Establish a process to identify and develop future party leaders

- Contest every local government seat in Scotland

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