Scottish Tories could break from UK party to ‘detoxify’ Conservative brand

Douglas Ross
Douglas Ross stood down as Scottish Tory leader midway through the election campaign - Andrew Milligan/PA

The Scottish Tories could break away from the UK party in an effort to “detoxify” the Conservative brand.

Murdo Fraser is expected to run for the post of Scottish Tory leader after Douglas Ross stood down midway through the election campaign.

Allies of Mr Fraser believe he will adopt a similar platform to when he stood for the leadership in 2011 and proposed setting up a separate Scottish centre-Right party – a proposal rejected when he lost to Baroness Davidson.

However, supporters said events such as partygate and the short-lived Liz Truss premiership, followed by the electoral collapse of the UK party, had breathed new life into his proposition.

While the Tories held five of the six Scottish seats they won in 2019 at the general election, there is alarm that the party’s vote share almost halved, falling to just 12.7 per cent.

Even staunch opponents of the idea of a new party acknowledged that Mr Fraser would be “the man to beat” should he declare his candidacy, given his name recognition and standing among the grassroots. He is believed to be in the US on a family holiday, but is weighing up his options.

“Everybody is taking stock but I think Murdo probably will stand,” said Liz Smith, a  veteran Scottish Tory MSP who previously backed Mr Fraser.

“We have suffered from the various problems at Westminster, not least a perception of a lack of integrity and trust. A lot of voters believed the party down south had not behaved well. So a separate party has to be part of the mix.

“Times have moved on, and there is still validity to Murdo’s call. Everybody recognises it was his brainchild. There is a very strong case for a centre-Right conservative party in Scotland with its own principles and its own identity.”

Another Scottish Tory MSP said they expected Mr Fraser to stand and put forward his new party plan, or a variation of it.

“Murdo has been pushing this for years, so he’ll see this as his big chance,” said the MSP. “He’ll have to be careful about how it is pitched, as our members are proud of the party and won’t want to hear they’re part of a toxic brand. But there’s no doubt that we have been dragged down by the UK party.”

Multiple Tory sources have told The Telegraph that there is a strong appetite for a “battle of ideas” to decide the next Scottish leader.

Russell Findlay, the Scottish Tory justice spokesman, is considering running and is seen as another leading leadership contender. He has been a strong performer at Holyrood but his critics point to his lack of experience, having only entered politics in 2020, and his closeness to Mr Ross.

Jamie Greene, on the Left of the Scottish party, is also believed to be considering running, as is Maurice Golden, who has rejected the idea of a split.

Mr Ross stood down amid a backlash over his decision to replace David Duguid, a popular incumbent MP, who was in hospital with a serious spinal illness. He then lost Aberdeenshire North and Moray East to the SNP, blaming a large Reform UK vote.

However, party insiders said some voters and local activists were infuriated by the perception that Mr Duguid had been “stabbed in the back” by Mr Ross, and refused to support him as a result.