This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

There’s nothing like a drubbing to focus the mind. 

After being swept away by the Labour landslide last week, the Conservative Party is out of office and out of power.  

It is also out of leaders, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing he will stand down as soon as a replacement is found, and Douglas Ross, the party’s man north of the border, having said he would quit no matter what the result of the election.

As it was, the vote went badly for Mr Ross, but he won’t be changing his mind – and a changing of the guard is coming for the Tories’ Scottish troops before long.  

But according to sources both named and unnamed, the time has come for a pause for thought.

As the result of the election sinks in – five years of Labour Government and opposition for the Conservatives – senior figures in the party are coming round to the idea that there’s no point rushing things.

With both sections of the party in search of a new body for the top job, there’s talk that neither will be filled with a ‘coronation’.

This is something of a departure for the Conservatives, who have gotten used to installing leaders with little contest or drawn-out debate.  

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Of the last four leaders of the UK party as a whole, only two were picked by the party’s members, with the others sailing through on the strength of MPs support or simply unopposed.  

Back in 2016 Theresa May started the trend when she succeeded David Cameron without her candidacy having to go to a party members vote. Her successor, Boris Johnson, bucked the trend – but with 66% support, the result was never in doubt.

Liz Truss also faced a members’ vote, but lasted just over a month before Rishi Sunak was crowned without opposition.  

In Scotland, it’s been even longer since the Conservatives held an internal vote. With Douglas Ross heading for the door, there may be those in the Tory Scottish HQ wondering where they put the ballot boxes – with the part-time linesman having occupied the position since being elected unopposed in August 2020. 

Mr Ross took over the leader’s role from Jackson Carlaw, who briefly held it for five months having triumphed in a one-sided election against Michelle Ballantyne.  

Carlaw, who would resign when he decided he wasn’t the man for the job, took on the job following the departure of Ruth Davidson, whose election to party leader way back in 2011 was the last time the party’s leadership was contested by more than two candidates.  

Jackson Carlaw was briefly Scottish Conservative leader before resigning to make way for Douglas Ross and his leadership (Image: Newsquest)
It’s small wonder that senior Scottish Conservative Maurice Golden was telling The Herald On Sunday that “we haven't really had an introspective look at our party since Ruth Davidson's election over a decade ago”. 

Mr Golden, one of those mulling a bid, also believes that the Conservatives need to stop banging the drum on their antipathy to independence, a cause he regards as spent in the light of the general election.

Having witnessed the SNP get a similar tousing as his own party, he said the 'no to indyref' message has “had its day with the SNP” and that the party needs to focus on its core messages on bread-and-butter issues – economy, health, justice and education.  

Should he stand, The north-east list MSP is being tipped to be joined in the contest by former journalist Russell Findlay, Craig Hoy, the party chairman, Jamie Greene, the former justice spokesman, and deputy leader Meghan Gallacher. 

The multiplicity of candidates should open up a debate on the direction of the party, one which could take surprising twists if it no longer uses the Scottish independence boogieman in place of actual policies.  

Similar debates are breaking out across the UK party, though the question there is not about how hard to go against Scottish independence, but how much the party should drift from the centre ground of politics.

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Having lost vast swathes of its natural voters to Reform UK, there are those arguing that the time has come to ape Nigel Farage’s party and outright out-right its pitch to voters.

In that corner are some well-kent faces: Kemi Badenoch, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman all survived the Starmer Tsunami and are already being tipped to helm the wreckage into a safer berth.  

But closer to the middle ground, other MPs are still standing – Tom Tugenhat, the former Security Minister who ran against Boris Johnson (coming fifth, admittedly) on a centrist ticket, for one.  

Also expected to throw his hat in the ring is ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick, considered a pragmatist by the party hopeful, and the little-known Victoria Atkins, who was health secretary for six months before the election. 

And as these political ideologies clash, it looks as though the Conservative party is headed not for a coronation, but a battle – for the party’s soul.