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Tory MSP says party must move beyond talking about independence to stay relevant

© Richard Gardner/ShutterstockMaurice Golden MSP.
Maurice Golden MSP.

The Scottish Tories must move beyond talking about opposing a new referendum on Scottish independence if they are to remain relevant following the SNP’s general election collapse, a party MSP has warned.

The Conservatives face dual ­leadership contests at Holyrood and Westminster following a disastrous campaign that brought about the resignations of both Douglas Ross and Rishi Sunak.

The Scottish Tory management board will meet soon to agree a timeline and format for the contest but it is understood no decision will be made before next weekend.

Meanwhile, key Conservative ­figures at Westminster who survived Thursday’s Labour landslide are said to be weighing up their options.

Rishi Sunak and Douglas Ross during a visit to a Highland port. Image: Shutterstock.

North East MSP Maurice Golden believes the Tories must work on becoming more relevant to voters across Scotland under new leadership.

He said: “I think the key aspect is to go beyond saying no to IndyRef2.

“That has proved immensely ­successful for us in the past but clearly, with the demise of the SNP, we’re going to need to have far more strings to our bow.

“I think that has to be top of the agenda for the next leader. In future elections, we need to be talking about all of the issues that matter to people.

“It’s about being distinctive. What are we going to do to be transformational on health, education, justice and climate change?

“We need to make sure we’re ­relevant to people across Scotland.”

Why does the strategy need to change?

Douglas Ross is stepping down after failing in his bid to win in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

The Tories framed their ­election campaign in Scotland as a fight against the SNP’s push for another independence vote.

It is a strategy that has worked well in the past, including securing the party’s strongest result in the history of devolution under Ross.

However, the nationalists’ ­disastrous election performance, where they lost 39 seats and 500,000 votes compared to 2019, appears to have taken a new referendum off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

SNP leader John Swinney. Image: Shutterstock

That leaves Tory leadership ­hopefuls with the task of finding a new way of establishing themselves ahead of the next Scottish Parliament election.

Golden declined to say whether he would stand, saying only that he plans to weigh up his options over the coming week.

Who else could stand for leader?

Glasgow MSP Russell Findlay, a former journalist, has been touted as one of the frontrunners for the post.

Tory insiders say he is likely to run, with one describing him as “well-rounded and experienced”.

Central Scotland MSP Meghan Gallacher and West Scotland MSP Jamie Greene have also been floated as possible candidates.

Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Meghan Gallacher MSP. Image: PA

Meanwhile, the Tories at Westminster face the challenge of finding a new leader to build back after the worst defeat in the party’s history.

Former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced he will step down after issuing a grovelling apology for ­devastating results which left the Conservatives with just 121 MPs.

Senior figures including Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch, Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick, James Cleverly, Tom Tugendhat and Vicky Atkins are expected to throw their hats into the ring.

A battle for the future

Former Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has ruled himself out, saying the “time
has passed”.

He is a two-time former leadership hopeful, having unsuccessfully stood against Boris Johnson in 2019 when Theresa May resigned, and again in 2022 after Johnson’s downfall.

The Tories face a battle between left and right-wing factions as they decide how best to counter the success of Nigel Farage’s Reform Party – which won just five MPs but about 14% of the votes around the whole UK.

Nigel Farage: Image: Supplied

Veteran Tory MP Edward Leigh blamed immigration for the poll meltdown, saying Farage and Reform should be “invited to join” – despite other senior figures saying they would not accept him.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman has declined to speak openly about her leadership ambitions but said yesterday: “We’ve just got to take our time. We’ve got to figure out what the situation is.”

Braverman was elected as MP in the redrawn constituency of Fareham and Waterlooville with a 6,000 majority.

She is on the right of the party and has suggested the Conservatives should welcome Farage in.

Braverman is seen as a strong ­contender after many potential rivals lost their seats.

However, former Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch is currently the bookies’ favourite to take over as leader.