Monday, September 5, 2011

In full: Murdo Fraser's speech to launch his leadership campaign and to close down the Scottish Tories and start again, its radical but is it workable

Dear All

This is the full text of a speech given by Murdo Fraser at the launch of his campaign to become leader of the Scottish Conservatives in Edinburgh today.


'Today, I am announcing my candidacy for the party leadership.

Some may regard this as a pointless position or even a poisoned chalice.

I do not.

I regard it as something well worth fighting for.

I want to be leader because I have a deep personal commitment to the values of freedom and responsibility for which we stand.

And I want to be leader because I believe what we stand for is of profound importance.

Profound importance to our supporters, of course.

But also profound importance to our country.

Scotland is dominated by a sterile conflict between two centre-left parties – Labour and the SNP.

This is selling our country short.

Scotland needs a strong, progressive centre-right party to challenge this consensus.

To articulate and stand up for values which are shared by many people throughout Scotland.

Because I believe passionately that it is our values which offer the best hope for Scotland's future prosperity and wellbeing.

So, as leader, my aim will be simple – to ensure that our values are, once again, at the heart of political debate here in Scotland.

I have been involved in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party for many years: as a volunteer; as head of the Young Conservatives; as a candidate; and as an MSP of 10 years to the day.

I don't need to tell you all that there have been good times and bad.

I was involved during the 80s and early 90s when we were winning.

But, like Conservatives across Scotland, I also bear the scars on my back from the difficult times we have endured in the last 15 years.

Results have changed.

But my passion has remained constant.

My pride in what we stand for will always remain constant.

But let us not confuse pride with stubbornness; passion with blindness.

We can change.

We must change.

And if we take the right decisions;

If we move in the right direction;

Then we can ensure that it is our values which will shape Scotland's future within a stronger United Kingdom in the years to come.

So where do we start?

By being realistic and honest about our position.

It has been 14 years since we were obliterated in 1997.

Since then, we have had strong, intelligent leadership from David McLetchie and Annabel Goldie.

They have both been wonderful servants of our party and both achieved much through difficult times.

For my part, it has been an honour and privilege to serve under both of them.

But the Scottish election of 5th May 2011 must be a line in the sand.

We were reduced to just over 12 per cent on the regional vote.

We should not look for excuses.

We should not use the SNP landslide as a shield to protect us from our own shortcomings.

Our supporters and members are deeply disappointed.

They are disillusioned.


Fed up. Fed up of fighting. Fed up of losing.

I understand their feelings. I share their feelings.

They want to start winning. So do I.

But we won't start winning until we understand why we keep losing.
And the reason is that our party, in its current state, is not fit for purpose.

It hasn't changed.

So we must now recognise that change is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Now is the time to face the truth.

It is a brutal truth. But it is the truth.

And it is that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is failing.
It is failing as a vehicle for the promotion of the values we stand for.
And it will never succeed in its current form.

A clear contradiction undermines everything we say and do.
We are a party which believes in devolving power to people but we haven't devolved power to ourselves.

And make no mistake.

This absence of power is putting the Union at risk because it is preventing us from carving out a distinctively Scottish, unionist position.

A new party for Scotland

So, in this leadership campaign, I want to make it absolutely clear in which direction I wish to take the party.

That's why today, I am announcing that if I am elected as Leader of the Party, I will build a new and stronger party for Scotland.

A new party.

A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life.

A new belief in devolution.

A new name.

But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom.

A new party. A new Unionism. A new dawn.

For those people who think this is a leap in the dark, let us remember that our most successful electoral period as a party came before 1965.

We were not the Conservative Party then. We were a party which had a distinct Scottish identity.

And in 1955, we gained the only absolute majority of votes in Scotland in the period of modern democracy.

So this new party will take us back to our roots.

The message from the Sanderson Commission was clear.

We need to reverse the centralising trend in our party.

I applaud the Sanderson Commission for its excellent work and I will build on its recommendations.

We will rejuvenate our party from the grassroots up.

We will invest in our local organisations.

We will give local parties greater freedom in candidate selection.

We will encourage genuine policy debate at our conferences.

And we will enhance the role of local councillors.

In short, we will become an open and attractive organisation that people think is worth joining, donating to, supporting, and, most importantly, voting for.

Now, I am under no illusion about the scale of the change I am proposing.

Or the fact that this might not be a universally popular proposal within the party.

There will be some in the party, perhaps even some of my colleagues, perhaps even some people in this room today who will say this is heresy.
Who will say that I am risking the future of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

I say to them with complete clarity and conviction: there is no future for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in its current form.

Our vote has continued to slip as we convinced ourselves things would get better.

But they didn't.

This will be difficult for some people to accept.

It is an emotional wrench for us all.

We have all worked for years, decades, for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

But that work will be wasted if we cannot transform ourselves into a winning party.

We have not failed as individuals.

But our party has.

At the minute, we know we are doing precious little to help the UK Conservative Party to form a government at Westminster.

Indeed, we are far more of a hindrance than a help.

I fully support the excellent work that David Cameron, George Osborne and the coalition government are doing to clear up Labour's mess, particularly the legacy of debt.

They are taking the tough decisions necessary to safeguard the future of people across Scotland and throughout the UK as a whole.

But instead of merely offering words of support, I want to be able to offer more practical help.

That will only happen if we send more MPs to Westminster.

Yes, they will be representatives of our new Scottish centre-right party, but they will continue to take the Conservative whip at Westminster.

We will continue to share fundamental, centre-right values and a common approach to many issues.

But we will not hesitate to champion the Scottish national interest in areas such as fishing or the future of our regiments, even if it means a disagreement or two with a future UK Conservative Government.

Of course, there will be a predictable reaction to these proposals from our political opponents.

They'll say that we are changing the sign on the office, but inside there are the same people, with the same policies.

Same old Tories. The people of Scotland will see through it, they'll say.

I say to them; this time, you're wrong.

This is not simply a re-branding exercise.

This is not PR or spin.

This will be a new party.

With a completely new approach.

A party which embraces values which many Scots hold dear.

A party which offers a home to the many people across Scotland who want a progressive, centre-right party.

But it is up to us to convince people of this.

To prove that these are not just words.

So how do we do it?

We can start with our attitude towards the Union.

And let me be clear that strengthening the Union will be at the centre of everything I will do.

We know the Union faces a serious threat.

The referendum on the future of the United Kingdom will be the central issue in Scottish politics over the next few years.

And let me say. If Alex Salmond really believed in his own message, he would put his money where his mouth is and have a single-question referendum.

No second question.

No Salmond cop-out.

Separation, yes or no.

We can kill independence.

And break the SNP.

So we must see the referendum on independence not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

We can be positive about Scotland and positive about the United Kingdom.

We are united and unwavering in our determination to preserve the United Kingdom.

But the way we choose to campaign to save the United Kingdom will say much about us.

Just as our opposition to devolution throughout the 1980s and 1990s defined us then.

So, our approach to Scotland's constitutional future in the 2010s will define us now.

Our early opposition to the Scottish Parliament has led to us being portrayed as anti-Scottish.

And, whether we like it or not, that is still the perception of much of the Scottish electorate.

To counter it, we need both an admission and a reality-check.

Painful as it may be for us to admit, our analysis of the impact of devolution was overstated.

The idea that devolution is inevitably a slippery slope to separation.

And that any power devolved is a step closer to independence.

Such a message was too simplistic.

This may sound counter-intuitive following the SNP landslide.

But the SNP landslide does not mean independence is now inevitable, whatever Alex Salmond may think.

Because support for independence amongst people in Scotland remains relatively unchanged since 1997.

Many people did not vote SNP to show support for independence.

They voted SNP because they thought the party was a competent government.

They voted SNP because they think Alex Salmond stands up for Scotland.
Because they think Alex Salmond is positive about Scotland.

Because they think Alex Salmond can get them what they want.

The Scottish people want more powers for their Parliament without wanting independence.

The Scottish people support a new form of unionism.

So do I.

A New Unionism that will give the people of Scotland the ability to shape their own future.

A New Unionism that will provide financial devolution to the Scottish Parliament, because with it will come responsibility.

A New Unionism that calls for a more decentralised United Kingdom, at ease with itself, knowing that the whole will always be greater than the sum of the parts.

Let me be clear that there are certain things that are rightly the responsibility of Westminster and must always remain so.

And when it comes to fiscal powers, I reject outright so-called 'Full Fiscal Freedom' where all taxes are raised in Scotland and we pay money to Westminster for certain UK services such as defence.

In my book, that is independence in disguise and advocating it is simply fighting Alex Salmond's battles for him.

We must be careful with our terminology.

We must say what we mean and mean what we say.

I reject outright Full Fiscal Freedom.

But I strongly support the principles of financial devolution, where the Scottish Parliament is more responsible for the money it spends.

This is an important discipline for any level of government, whether it be the Scottish Parliament or local councils.

I believe it will lead to more accountable and better government in Scotland while giving us more fiscal tools to improve the performance of the economy.

That is why I, along with the other candidates in this leadership election, support the UK Government's Scotland Bill and want to see its proposals implemented and working as soon as possible.

It sets out ambitious plans to increase the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament.

But it keeps the world's most successful economic, political, social and monetary union – the United Kingdom – together.

These are the principles on which we should build in the future.

New Unionism is about the total rejection of independence.
But it is positive about greater devolution.

And so, once the Scotland Bill has been implemented, I am open-minded about a further review of the devolution settlement.

And I will do what the Sanderson Commission recommended and lead a full debate in the party about the way forward.

But let me be clear that any further devolution will be considered on pragmatic grounds.

It must be shown to benefit Scotland and strengthen the UK.

I realise some people will say this is not Unionism.

But that's like saying that Australia or Germany or Switzerland or the United States or Canada are not Unions.

Not united, patriotic countries.

This argument equates Unionism with centralisation.

And it is wrong to do so.

Let me be clear: I will bow to absolutely nobody in my commitment to the United Kingdom.

But I believe our United Kingdom is most at risk from a failure to redefine Unionism.

From a failure to embrace New Unionism.

It is at risk from a backlash from people in Scotland who believe that the only party which speaks for them is the SNP.

That the only party which believes Scotland is capable of exercising greater powers with competence and responsibility is the SNP.

And it is at risk from voters in England who believe that the current devolution settlement is unfair.

I say, no more.

We need to make the positive case for the Union.

The Scottish Parliament is not going away.

We can't stop the world and jump off.

It's time to embrace New Unionism.

It's time to be enthusiastic about the evolution of devolution.

Ladies and gentlemen, a new party and new unionism are the political equivalents of a foot in the door.

They offer us a fresh opportunity to be heard.

A fair hearing, free of preconceptions and negative perceptions.

They give us a chance to convince people in Scotland of the value of what we stand for.

It is up to us to grasp this opportunity to set out our vision for Scotland.

I believe our values are more relevant today than ever before.

I have always understood the value of a free society.

Because, for me, the free society is the good society – the strong society.

It fosters the responsibility, diversity, justice, compassion, solidarity and opportunity on which such a good and strong society is built.

It serves the common good because it is the catalyst for progress in all aspects of human life.

It has been proven to deliver the things that really matter to people - security; a higher standard of living; better public services.

But such a society will only flourish within the right institutional framework.

Government has a vital, but limited, role to play in such a society.

For example, in enforcing the law, ensuring universal access to public services and alleviating poverty.

But we must all share the responsibility for building the good society.

We can all play our part in upholding vital institutions.

Because a strong society is built from the bottom up; not the top down.

That is why I want to empower people and local communities throughout Scotland.

This is the basis of a modern, progressive vision in tune with our times.

It is this modern, progressive vision that we need to set out in the months and years ahead.

To show that our beliefs serve all of Scotland, not just a few areas.

To show that our policies will improve life for all of Scotland, not just a few groups.

To show that we speak for all of Scotland, not just the chosen few.

And, in particular, those least able to look after themselves.

I know what I believe.

I believe in the value of family and community.

In the crucial importance of voluntary co-operation in all its forms whether inspired by family loyalty, philanthropy or mutual benefit.

These are the foundation of my political beliefs - my compass.
These values are what unite us.

They are an integral part of the Scottish tradition with its emphasis on voluntarism, mutualism and community.

And they are shared by most people in Scotland.

People who used to vote for us.

Too often, we hear defeatist assertions that Scotland is somehow a more left wing country than England.

But we know there are thousands of people throughout Scotland who share our desire to see an enterprising economy, strong, safe communities and effective public services.

Yet, we have lost thousands of centre-right votes over the last 20 years.

If we don't change, we will never get them back.

By changing our party, we will put ourselves back in the game.
There is everything to play for.

So we must show the people of Scotland that we are in tune with their values.

That we understand their aspirations.

That we wish to see a society which gives every single person the best possible chance to fulfil their potential.

We will have to build our support from the ground floor up.
Winning house by house and street by street.

To do so, we have to trust our party, just as we trust the Scottish people.

But we also need the discipline and the determination to develop a clear and coherent policy programme based on our values.

There must be more to the next few years than simply a debate about the constitution.

Most people want to know if we have answers to the many challenges facing modern Scotland.

The challenges of creating new jobs, reducing crime, providing decent and affordable homes and ensuring everyone has access to high quality education and health services.

Scotland is a great country in so many ways, but we could be so much better.

Too often we settle for mediocrity because raising these issues is met with accusations of 'talking Scotland down.'

Well, no problem was ever solved by brushing it under the carpet.

So we will address these issues head on and set out distinctive solutions which empower people and local communities.

Because for me, mediocrity will never be good enough.

I have high aspirations for my country.

As the father of two young children, I want them to grow up in a Scotland where they are safe and secure; where they have a wide range of opportunities and where our education system is once again the envy of the world.

So a new party and a new Unionism will give us a foot in the door.

But it is up to us to encourage people in Scotland to open the door and let us in.

So the choice we face is stark and serious.

It is, without exaggeration, adapt or die.

My ideas could be rejected.

We could adopt the old approach.

Disengaged from the evolution of the Scottish Parliament;

Negative towards our prospects as a country;

Further alienated from the people of Scotland;

An attempt to push back the tide of history;

I've seen that movie before. It doesn't have a happy ending.

As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It is time to try something different.

A bold, new direction.

Creating a new party;

Uniting people of all ages; from all backgrounds; and from all areas; not ashamed to vote for us;

Saving our United Kingdom.

To me, it would be a great honour to lead such a party.

I am proud of what we stand for today.

I am prouder still of what we can achieve, together, in our future.

In our future as a new party.

I was born 46 years ago today, in 1965.

The same year our party gave up its distinctive Scottish identity.

Our new party will go back to its roots.

We will build a movement to win back the thousands of voters who have left us.

We will re-energise our people.

We will enthuse.

We will fight.

And we will win.

Thank you'.

We will have to wait and see what type of reception it gets, but one thing is sure, the status quo has got to go.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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