Scottish Conservative Party leadership election, 2011
The 2011 Scottish Conservative Party leadership election was an internal party election to elect a new leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the third largest political party in the devolved Scottish Parliament. Ruth Davidson was declared the winner of the contest on 4 November 2011, succeeding former leader Annabel Goldie. The election was triggered when incumbent party leader Annabel Goldie announced her resignation on 9 May 2011, following her party's self-described 'disappointing' result in the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election, in which the Conservatives were reduced from 17 seats to 15.
However, a commission headed by Lord Sanderson in 2010 had outlined the need for a leadership election directly after the 2011 elections and had been highly critical of the party's current leadership and conduct. Four candidates stood in the contest, all of whom were MSPs: Ruth Davidson, Murdo Fraser, Jackson Carlaw and Margaret Mitchell. The contest sparked intense debate within the party, with Murdo Fraser standing on a platform of disbanding the Scottish Conservatives in favour of establishing a wholly new, centre-right Scottish party, which would be autonomous but allied to the Conservative Party in England and Wales. This idea was rejected by his three opponents, however had support from over half of the MSP group. After a ballot using the Single transferable vote method to the party's 8,500 Scottish members, Ruth Davidson defeated Fraser by a margin of 566 votes.
- 1 Background
- 2 Candidates
- 3 Reaction to Murdo Fraser's proposal
- 4 Campaign controversy
- 5 Campaign hustings
- 6 Results
- 7 Reaction to result
- 8 Timeline of events
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The Sanderson Commission
After the 2010 UK General Election, David Cameron's Conservatives were the largest party and subsequently formed government through a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland however, not a single seat was gained by the party, and David Mundell remained the party's only Scottish MP. A committee was then established to analyse the situation, headed by Lord Sanderson, with Lord Forsyth also contributing.
The Sanderson Commission outlined the following recommendations:
- Elect a Scottish leader to have overall responsibility for the Party’s performance in Scotland.
- Replace the weak leadership and governance framework with a streamlined, transparent and accountable structure.
- Create regional campaign centres staffed by campaign professionals.
- Increase support and resources for the local association network.
- Develop a clear vision for Scotland, distinct to the Scottish Conservatives.
- Engage the whole Party and wider Scotland in policy development - and recruit a chief policy adviser.
- Introduce balloted motions and open debate at Party conference.
- Overhaul candidate selection and development - and reform the current ranking process for Regional List MSPs.
- Establish a process to identify and develop future Party leaders.
- Contest every local government seat throughout Scotland.
- Launch a new fundraising and membership drive across Scotland.
- Provide an annual grant to Conservative Future Scotland to help develop the Party’s youth wing.
The commission also stated the need for a leadership election to be held after the Scottish parliamentary election, as no leadership election has thus far been held by the Scottish Conservatives. Both David McLetchie and Annabel Goldie were selected as leader without any ballot taking place.
2011 Scottish Parliament Election
For the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the party campaigned on what it called 'common sense for Scotland', and outlined the requirement for re-introducing university tuition fees and prescription charges, as well as emphasising what the party had helped pass through parliament as a minority force during 2007-11: 1,000 extra police officers, a four-year council tax freeze and a £60m town regeneration fund.
In the election, the Scottish National Party under Alex Salmond won an un-precedented majority of seats, winning 69 of the 129 seats available. The Conservative result was self-described as 'disappointing', as the party was reduced from 17 seats to 15. The party lost three of their six notionally held constituency seats, including former party leader David McLetchie in Edinburgh Pentlands and Jackson Carlaw in Eastwood, although both individuals were returned to parliament on the regional list. Whilst the Conservatives could take comfort in the knowledge that their losses were slight in comparison to those suffered by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Annabel Goldie announced her resignation as party leader four days after the election.
Four MSPs stood in the contest.
Jackson Carlaw MSP
Age - 52
Profile - MSP for the West Scotland region since 2007 and current party spokesman on energy, transport and climate change. He has held other posts in the past including deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, chairman of the Scottish Young Conservatives and as a Member of the Board of the UK-wide party. He has three times unsuccessfully contested the Scottish Parliament constituency of Eastwood, the third occasion whilst holding a notional majority of over 3,500 votes. He was the first contender to declare their candidacy, on 10 August 2011, and launched his campaign on 2 September.
Policies - Was described as being on the right of the party, and was against the transferring of further powers to Holyrood. On 2 September, he declared that he wishes for the referendum on Scottish independence to take place before any discussion is undertaken over further devolution. He also declared himself the 'unity' option for party members.
Murdo Fraser MSP
Age - 46
Profile - MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife since 2001, party spokesman on Health and the Deputy leader of party (2005–11). A former Chairman of the Scottish Young Conservatives (1989–92), he has unsuccessfully contested the seat of Tayside North five times at Scottish and Westminster elections. He is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and is the Parliamentary Advisor to the Autism Treatment Trust. Declared his candidacy on 26 August.
Policies - Considered on the right of the party, Fraser supports far greater tax and spending powers for the Scottish Parliament in the form of further financial devolution. On 1 September, Fraser outlined his vision for 'New Unionism', with the intention of 'killing independence' and then to 'break the SNP'. He states that he rejects full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, calling it 'independence in disguise', but pledged his support for financial devolution, which he claims will make Parliament more accountable for the money it spends. On 4 September, Fraser made a high-profile announcement, that if elected leader, he would disband the party in favour of setting up a new centre-right party that would be fully autonomous of the UK Conservative Party, but would take the Conservative whip at Westminster. Fraser states that this would be carried out in order to 'de-toxify' the party in Scotland, stating that it would have a distinct Scottish identity, represent Scottish values, support devolution and decentralisation, and fight to maintain Scotland's place within the United Kingdom. He also would rename the party - ditching the name 'Conservative' – with possible new names cited as Scottish Reform Party, Scottish Unionists, The Scottish Progressives, the Progressive Conservatives, Scotland First, Scotland Forward, Caledonian Party or The Caledonians. The name 'Unionist' was downplayed, so as to avoid its connotations to Northern Ireland sectarianism, and a smaller Scottish Unionist Party also exists, rendering a change to this name impossible under electoral law.
This plan would see a return to the situation of conservatism in Scotland between 1912 and 1965, when the Scottish Unionist Party was completely autonomous of the Conservative Party in England and Wales, but took the Conservative whip at Westminster, and even contributed two UK Prime Ministers: Bonar Law and Alec Douglas-Home. Fraser notes that it was during this time where the Unionists, as they were then called, achieved their best result in Scotland; in 1955, they won more seats than Labour, and took over 50% of the vote, a feat that no political party has achieved in a Scottish election since. However, following the events of 1965, when the Unionist Party was merged into the UK-wide Conservative Party, the party began a downward spiral which culminated in the loss of all Scottish Conservative seats in 1997. Fraser also cites examples of this situation existing successfully in other countries, for instance the centre-right Christian Social Union of Bavaria takes the whip of the German Christian Democratic Union in the German parliament, but exists as a fully autonomous party.
On 11 October Fraser outlined ten pledges to fulfill should he win the contest. They are shown below.
- Hold monthly conference calls with constituency association chairmen.
- Hold regular ‘candidate conferences’ to ensure that candidates are getting the support they need.
- Bring back real debate and votes on policy at Party Conferences.
- Develop a new national and local media strategy to ensure that the party is able to obtain a higher level of coverage.
- Introduce a national and local online and social media strategy to raise party profile and take party message to younger voters in particular.
- Work more closely with the youth wing in the party and target younger professionals to become voters, members and candidates.
- Set up a special committee to organise fundraising for all campaigns in all parts of Scotland.
- Establish national policy groups with experts from both inside and outside the party, and ensure every constituency has the opportunity to provide input to these groups.
- Establish an annual awards programme to recognise outstanding effort by associations, candidates and individuals.
- Visit every constituency at least once per year.
Fraser declared his opposition to the centralisation of Scottish police forces, on 25 October, saying 'Such a centralisation of power is incompatible with a belief in localism that is common across western European centre-right parties'.
Supporters - MSPs: David McLetchie, Gavin Brown, Alex Johnstone, Alex Fergusson, Liz Smith, Nanette Milne, Jamie McGrigor, Struan Stevenson MEP, Former Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind MP, Former MP and Shadow Scottish Secretary Peter Duncan, Leaders of Conservative groups on Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh, Fife, Perth and Kinross and Stirling councils, Former MEPs: John Purvis, John Corrie and James Provan.
Ruth Davidson MSP
Age - 32
Profile - MSP for the Glasgow region since 2011 and party spokeswoman on culture. Formerly contested the Westminster seat of Glasgow East at a by-election in 2009 and at the 2010 General Election. Davidson declared her candidacy on 4 September, the same day that Murdo Fraser made his pitch to disband the Scottish Conservatives and start up a new party.
Policies - Was described as being more politically moderate than her main opponents and she opposed the notion of the Scottish Conservatives separating from the UK-wide party and renaming itself.
Supporters - Scotland Office Minister David Mundell MP, MSPs: John Lamont and John Scott, Former MP Sir Albert McQuarrie, Marquess of Lothian Michael Ancram, Lord Sanderson, Lord Forsyth, Lord Strathclyde
Campaign Manager - John Lamont MSP
Margaret Mitchell MSP
Age - 58
Profile - A former Justice of the Peace, Mitchell has represented the Central Scotland region in the Scottish Parliament since 2003. She declared in July that she would support Lord Forsyth, however Forsyth declared his backing for another candidate in September. On the day of nominations closing on 23 September, Mitchell declared that she would stand in the contest, having got the 100 nominations necessary.
Policies - She opposed the Scotland Bill 2011, calling its proposal to vary tax by 10p as 'crazy', and is opposed to the notion of the Scottish Conservatives disbanding into a new centre-right party.
Supporters - None declared.
Speculated candidates who did not stand in the contest
- John Lamont - MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire and party spokesman on justice. Lamont had 'dropped strong hints' that he would run for the leadership, shortly after the Scottish parliament elections. However, in June 2010, Lamont attacked the system of state-funded Roman Catholic education in west-central Scotland, reportedly 'self-destructing' his chances of standing for leadership. In August 2011, he confirmed that he would not stand in the contest and eventually lent his backing to Ruth Davidson.
- Gavin Brown - MSP for the Lothian region since 2007, and party spokesman on the economy. On 1 September, Brown stated that, after consideration, he would not stand in the contest and declared his support for Murdo Fraser.
- Alex Fergusson - MSP for Galloway & West Dumfries and former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. Fergusson ruled out any prospect of him standing for leadership on election night, saying that he was 'too old' and eventually backed Murdo Fraser.
- Annabel Goldie - Former Party leader (2005–11) and MSP for West of Scotland list. Goldie confirmed during her resignation, that she would not contest the forthcoming leadership election.
- Michael Forsyth - Former Secretary of State for Scotland under John Major (1995–97) and MP for Stirling (1983–97), now sits in the House of Lords as 'Baron Forsyth of Drumlean'. Margaret Mitchell had said she would support him if he stood in the contest, however on 11 September, Forsyth declared his backing for Ruth Davidson and Mitchell went on to declare her own candidacy.
Reaction to Murdo Fraser's proposal
Murdo Fraser announced on 4 September 2011 his idea to disband the Scottish Conservatives and create a new centre-right party. The idea received mixed reception amongst senior Conservatives, with former Scottish Secretary under John Major Lord Forsyth calling the plan 'ludicrous'. However his predecessor under Margaret Thatcher, Sir Malcolm Rifkind called it 'refreshing' and stated that it should be given serious consideration. The Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was born and raised in Scotland but represents an English constituency, welcomed the idea, calling it a sign of genuine 'revival, political and intellectually' of the centre-right in Scotland, whereas former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, also a Scot representing an English constituency, stated that he opposed the idea. No word was received on the Prime Minister David Cameron's viewpoint, however his close ally Francis Maude pledged support for the idea.
Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the only Scottish Conservative MP, initially said that it would 'take a very great deal of convincing' to make him support the idea, however later came out in stark opposition to the plan, calling it 'betrayal' and stated that he would still run as a Conservative at the next general election whether or not Fraser was successful. Several other senior Conservative figures, including Norman Tebbit and Daniel Hannan supported Fraser's plan, and Daily Mail journalist Peter Hitchens went so far as to say this idea should be adopted by the whole UK Conservative Party in order to re-claim support.
Fraser was backed by over half the MSP group, though all three of the other leadership contenders oppose the idea. Rival candidate Jackson Carlaw called the idea a 'distraction', and said it would only 'divide and not unite the party'.
On 5 October 2011, the Scottish Conservative media director Ramsay Jones was suspended from his duties during the leadership contest, after it was revealed that he had met Davidson and her campaign team in her flat on Sunday, 18 September. This breached his impartial status. However Jones was re-instated in his role after Davidson was elected leader.
On 11 September 2011, Davidson sacked her election agent and parliamentary assistant Ross McFarlane after a newspaper unearthed camera footage of McFarlane drunkenly trying to burn a European Union flag while someone else off camera made anti-Catholic sectarian remarks in a Glasgow street in November 2010.
|2–5 October||Manchester||At UK party conference.|
|29 October||Banchory||Jackson Carlaw was absent from this debate after being hospitalised with appendicitis.|
|Scottish Conservative Party leadership election, 2011|
|Party||Candidate||% 1st Pref||Count 1||Count 2|
|Electorate: Valid: 5,676 Spoilt: Quota: 2,839 Turnout: 63.8%|
Reaction to result
Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron congratulated Davidson on her win, saying that he looks 'forward to working with her to strengthen the Union and build a better future for Scotland'. Outgoing Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie also offered congratulations, pledging 'not be a back seat driver' and was 'confident that she is more than equal to taking on Alex Salmond'. Murdo Fraser conceded defeat, saying he was 'disappointed that I was not able to persuade more of our members that my vision for the future is the correct one', but pledged to support Davidson as leader.
First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond congratulated Davidson, but emphasised 'the scale of the task for Ruth Davidson in motivating her party'. Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said that following in Annabel Goldie's footsteps would be a 'big task' for Davidson, and the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that he 'looks forward to working with her, in her new role, as we strive to hold the SNP government to account'.
The day after the result, leading Scottish Conservative supporter Paul McBride QC resigned from the party, citing that he 'frequently found himself at odds with the party in recent months', particularly with their policy on anti-sectarianism legislation and said of new party leader Ruth Davidson, that 'they have a leader who has no policies and little experience apart from having been on television about as many times as I have' and that (the Scottish Conservatives) 'replaced one nice woman with one not so very nice woman'.
In an interview with the BBC, leading party donor John McGlynn, who had supported Murdo Fraser, was critical of Ruth Davidson, saying that 'there isn't a new team of people behind (her)'. He called her appointment of David Mundell MP as interim party chairman 'not new' and went on to say 'I would've thought there'd been more planning in a leadership campaign'. McGlynn said that the view amongst other party donors is 'mixed', and that he believed Davidson was elected though 'interference'.
Post leadership election events
The newly elected leader will no doubt oversee the implementation of the recommendations made by the Sanderson Commission, and will lead the party into the 2012 local council elections.
Beyond this, there is also the 2015 UK general election, the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, and the unscheduled referendum on whether or not Scotland should leave the UK, in which the Conservatives will be involved in the campaign to stay in the UK.
Timeline of events
9 May - Annabel Goldie announces her resignation as Scottish Conservative leader.
5 Aug - John Lamont, after much speculation, announces that he will not stand in the leadership contest.
10 Aug - Jackson Carlaw declares he will stand in the contest.
26 Aug - Murdo Fraser declares he will stand in the contest.
30 Aug - Liz Smith is declared as Murdo Fraser's campaign manager.
1 Sep - Gavin Brown, formerly speculated as standing in the election, states that he will not run and lends his backing to Murdo Fraser.
2 Sep - Jackson Carlaw officially launches his leadership campaign in Glasgow.
4 Sep - Murdo Fraser makes the high-profile announcement that if elected leader, he would disband the Scottish Conservatives and seek to create a new centre-right party, autonomous but allied to the UK Conservative Party. This prompts mixed reactions from senior party figures.
4 Sep - Ruth Davidson formally announces that she will stand in the contest.
5 Sep - Murdo Fraser launches his campaign in Edinburgh.
8 Sep - Ruth Davidson launches her campaign in Edinburgh.
11 Sep - Lord Forsyth, at one point a suggested leadership candidate, declares his backing for Ruth Davidson.
23 Sep - Nominations for leadership close. Margaret Mitchell confirms she will stand in the election.
2 Oct - David Mundell MP declares his backing for Ruth Davidson and states that should Fraser win, Mundell would still run as a Conservative at the 2015 election.
10 Oct - Ballot papers are distributed to Scottish Conservative party members.
4 Nov - Ruth Davidson is declared the new leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
- Scottish Labour Party leadership election, 2011
- Scottish Liberal Democrats leadership election, 2011
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-  - Murdo Fraser's campaign site.
-  - Jackson Carlaw's campaign site.
-  - Ruth Davidson's campaign site.
-  - Margaret Mitchell's campaign site.