Hamish Macdonell

A leadership contest might be just what the Scottish Tories need

A leadership contest might be just what the Scottish Tories need
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That's it, the full house. Alex Salmond has seen off all three main opposition party leaders before the Scottish Parliament has even convened for the first time in this new session.

Yesterday afternoon, Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie joined her Labour and Liberal Democrat counterparts (Iain Gray and Tavish Scott) in standing down.

The Conservatives did not do quite as badly as either of the other two opposition parties in the election – they went down two seats, from 17 to 15 – and many will see that as the reason Miss Goldie delayed her resignation for a few days, to work out of she could continue.

But, in reality, Miss Goldie always seemed destined to resign after this Holyrood poll. When she took over the leadership, from David McLetchie in 2005, it was assumed then that she would act as a semi-permanent leader, someone to stabilise the ship until someone younger and more dynamic took over.

Miss Goldie then did very well. She managed to become well known in Scotland and her brand of feisty, matronly humour caught Mr Salmond off guard on more than one occasion.

But there were always rumblings in the background, some from party donors, some from party activists because the Scottish Tory Party seemed moribund and lacking in ideas or passion.

That reached a peak after last year’s Westminster elections when, despite throwing substantial sums at the campaign, the Conservatives ended up with just one seat in Scotland.

A move started then to oust Miss Goldie; who refused to stand down. But instead of forcing her resignation, the rebels managed to secure a full review of the party.

That review found there was not any coordinated leadership in the party and it recommended a full and new leadership contest directly after the Scottish Parliament elections.

Miss Goldie knew that was coming, she knew she had been lucky to survive a coup after last year’s election debacle and she knew there was a movement within the party to have her replaced.

So, while she probably did think she deserved to stay on after bringing back 15 seats last Thursday, the timing of her departure had been pretty well signalled for some time: at least since last year’s election defeat and, really, right back to the day she took over.

Miss Goldie is a forthright and formidable Glaswegian spinster. David Cameron memorably described has as his “favourite Scottish Auntie,” but she was not the policy driven politician the Scottish Conservative Party needs to really take advantage of Labour’s problems.

The Conservatives in Scotland have a chance to really make progress given the vacuum that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have effectively left in the Scottish Parliament.

Murdo Fraser, Miss Goldie’s deputy, may well get the leadership unchallenged. But he may face a contest from Gavin Brown, another young and rising Tory MSP, and possibly even from Jackson Carlaw, another ambitious younger Tory.

A contest of some sort, though, would be no bad thing. It would allow a battle of ideas – something the Scottish party has not had for a very, very long time.