It’s predictable, isn’t it?
A major election looms and the Scottish Tories implode. It’s actually a great shame because however much I disagree with their politics they do actually have some interesting things to say on some key issues. I’d much rather be criticising the Scottish Conservatives for their views on education, health, public services and the like than their inability to deal with internal difficulties.
But such is the state of Annabel Goldie’s party that there isn’t much chance of the electorate even being aware of their manifesto pledges, let alone having the chance to consider the Tories’ positions on a range of matters. Unfortunately, as ever, the media (and therefore public) focus is on the turmoil the Tories find themselves in.
Labour’s Charlie Gordon is quoted in The Herald as saying: “This Tory election campaign is fast becoming a joke. But in any case, the people of Glasgow know what the Conservative Party is like. They are going to be severely punished.” He’s not wrong. And this is a problem of the Tories’ own making, undermining Annabel Goldie’s attempts to reinvigorate and reinvent Scottish Conservatism and improve its public image.
In the last few days key Tory candidate Malcolm Macaskill dropped out of the race and Cllr David Meikle has withdrawn as a candidate in Glasgow’s regional list. This in itself hardly constitutes a crisis, however unfortunate – but the issues surrounding Cllr Meikle’s resignation certainly do.
It was bad enough when Macaskill, who was top of the Tories’ list for the Glasgow region and likely to replace Bill Aitken as an MSP, was effectively sacked following revelations over previous bankruptcies and unpaid income tax in the 1990s.
But, since then, the promotion of Ruth Davidson to the number one spot on the party’s list has led to claims of electoral manipulation, a stitch-up and cronyism. Knives have been drawn among rival sides. The conspiracy theorists claim her promotion owes a great deal to the fact that she was, until very recently, working as Annabel Goldie’s personal assistant.
Macaskill has helpfully further inflamed a difficult situation by labelling the party leadership “dysfunctional” and alleging that he had been denied a fair hearing. Some of Macaskill’s friends, who have contributed large sums of money to party funds, have now withdrawn their support.
According to The Herald, Meikle now claims that “the entire Glasgow list ranking was suspect” with “serious question marks over the ballot” and has indicated he wants the selection process re-run. Another candidate, Richard Sullivan, demanded an investigation into “electoral malpractice”. Whatever the truth about the way the Conservatives manage (or otherwise) their internal elections, it’s clearly impossibly late in the day for any repeat election which would – in all likelihood – only have created further controversy.
Convinced by the lack of democracy within the Tories’ selection procedures, Meikle felt he had no option other than to resign: “I recently called for an investigation into the list rankings in Glasgow but the party refused to look into serious allegations of electoral malpractice. I have therefore refused to sign the Regional List nomination forms and have resigned from the Glasgow List.”
The Herald also point out that the Tories have already lost candidates in Banffshire and Buchan Coast, East Kilbride, and Falkirk East.
The Tories have denied there is a need for an investigation, but clearly the party leadership must have been aware of the problem and the simmering discontent. It may be that the selection process was open and fair, but Annabel Goldie will not emerge from this with much credit given that she was evidently aware of the situation yet instigated no resolution. Whichever way this is looked at, it is very bad for the Tories.
Annabel Goldie has stated that David Cameron is pleased with the way things are going in Scotland. "The Tory hierarchy down south is delighted with the campaign we are running, David Cameron personally endorsed it when I met him earlier this year. He was very positive.” He’s either easily pleased or a very good liar.
She dismissed the turmoil in Glasgow as "issues which can arise” and pledged to move on from this to “highlight the very positive record of Scottish Conservative achievements in the Scottish Parliament over the last four years”. I suspect though that however hard she tries, voters will be far more interested in the Scottish Conservatives’ apparent appetite for self-destruction and ongoing allegations of conspiracy and corruption than they will be by any attempt to sell Tory achievements.
It’s not good for the Tories. It’s not good for the image of Scottish democracy. But the Tories can only blame themselves for once again sending out all the wrong messages.