The future of the Conservatives in Scotland has been a popular topic on ConHome (and much of the Scottish media) since the General Election. Since the disappointing election result in Scotland, the party has announced the Sanderson Review into how the party operates in Scotland, and Annabel Goldie has reshuffled the team in Holyrood, asking me to lead a separate review into policy.
We’ve issued an open invitation to every party member in Scotland to engage in this policy debate. Last week, I chaired a policy conference where over 350 members came together to discuss our political approach, and we have begun a wider programme of meetings with civic Scotland.
Perhaps inevitably, much of the focus in the media since the election has been on the way the party is structured in Scotland, and on the personalities involved. That's fair enough, but fundamentally most of us get involved in politics because we are interested in the battle of ideas.
I don't for one moment seek to underplay the importance of some of the issues around structural reform - they must be addressed - but for me the key question we should all ask before we consider issues around organisation, structure or personnel is a simple one: what do we stand for? What is the centre-right vision in today's Scotland, and how does that translate into our policies and political approach?
It is sensible to reconsider these questions in the light of the election result, and in the new political environment in which we find ourselves. We all have our own answers to these questions, but in this engagement phase of the review I want to hear as many different contributions to this debate as possible.
The problems we face are not unique – many will be familiar to anyone who remembers the 2005 UK leadership election, although some are specific to Scotland.
Much of the critique of the position of the Scottish Party so far has been about how we are perceived, whether fair or not. So some have suggested we are seen as lacking interest in the poorer in society; that we are still seen as “anti-Scottish”; or that voters think we would like to dismantle public services.
What is striking about these is that the observations have tended to be about what we are seen to be against, rather than what we stand for. That’s why underpinning our manifesto next year needs to be a clear, simple and consistent theme which sets out a positive vision and which provides the platform for the 2011 election campaign.
Perfectly crafted policies don’t, on their own, win elections – but they do send out a strong signal of the kind of party we are, and the kind of country we are trying to shape.
Submissions to the Policy Review can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org