How do the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party need to change in order to improve their electoral performance?

Saturday, 29 May 2010


Welcome to my campaign website and what I hope you will view as your chance to have your voice heard in a members debate as to the future direction of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party.

There are five articles posted on this site covering issues I believe we must debate as a Party if we are to be able to move forward to a brighter future. Although I have put my thoughts on each issue into print, I know I do not have a monopoly on good ideas and as members make good arguments as to why I am wrong and the direction they believe we should pursue I will update the website content.

Comments on each subject can be treated as for public consumption or as being for internal use only. Simply start your comment "PRIVATE - ..." if you would prefer any comment you post not to be made public.

So have your say on:

Modernising our brand at:

Promoting Social Justice in Scottish Conservative Terms at:

Strengthening Conservative Future at:

Attracting new talent to our Party at:

Improving policy development through member participation at:

I put my name forward to serve as Deputy Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party because I believe deeply in our party, its membership and in the need for a centre right party to represent the hundreds of thousands of Scots who believe in the same things we do.

Putting it bluntly, our General Election results were not good. In all but a few seats the people of Scotland turned out to stop the Tories and not to support us despite the worst economic disaster in British peace time history.

So where do we go now? What do we change? When do we act?

All these questions are open to debate but at the time of close of nominations for the post of Deputy Chairman only candidates (by way of a survey), MSPs, and the hundred or so people able to attend the Scottish Council were being asked for their thoughts. By contesting the Deputy Chairmanship everyone now has an opportunity to help shape the debate, if they want to, and those who participate set the agenda in a truly open way.

If I am elected to the highest elected position in the voluntary Party, I am commited to ensuring a bottom to top review open to every member. Moreover, I promise all the conclusions of this review will be implemented in full, no matter how difficult some of the changes will be to carry through, because our Party is bigger than any of us and putting our countries interests before our own is what we do.

I hope you enjoy this website and participate in the debate.

Richard Cook

Modernising our brand

Talking to members of our Party the length and breadth of Scotland, there seems to be so many things that need to change - and none more so that our brand image.

In my written statement to members, which accompanies ballot papers for the Deputy Chairman election, I refer to a recent BBC Documentary "Why Didn't Scots Vote Tory", presented by Sally Magnusson. My reason for doing so is that this documentary established in my mind, and in the minds of many Party members who watched this programme, a sense that we have a massive job of work to do if we are to overcome a perception among the Scottish electorate that we and our policies are not good for Scotland.

Having benefited from the popularity of both David Cameron and Annabel Goldie during the General Election, I think we need to be clear it is the perception of our brand and not our leadership that is our greatest issue. I lost because people believe the brand remains toxic not because David Cameron visited East Renfrewshire, where the electorate like and admire him greatly. And throughout our campaign Annabel’s tireless efforts motivated my troops and help galvanise and grow a Conservative vote.

What both David and Annabel now need is a party to support them which mirrors their own popularity.

Despite the terrific work and fantastic campaigns of our candidates, the Scottish people still clearly perceive the Scottish Tory Party as not being "like them" and implementation of our policy is something they fear.

We must change this brand image dramatically and this is not something that can simply be left to evolution of the Scottish electorate.

If elected to serve as Deputy Chairman I am committed to providing every member with an opportunity to participate in a bottom up review of everything we do and the way we do it. I have always advocated this sort of exercise should consider absolutely every aspect of Party organisation and given the nature of discussions I am being told are taking place between members at Association level this means:

1) Do we need an immediate review of our Constitution?

I think we do and don't think this can wait a year. It may be that we review our structures now but delay some changes until after elections to the Scottish Parliament in May next year, but I don't think we can afford to waste time given the position we are in.

When I last sat on our Executive Committee I presented a paper on a range of constitution related issues. I still believe our structures are wrong and that we need to modernise them dramatically so as to provide clear leadership and better direction.

For me, it is also time for the Scottish Party to grow up and for Associations to accept that a proportion of membership fees needs to go to the Party centrally so that they can administer the Party professionally and communicate with our members effectively. In England this is 20% of the £25 statutory membership fee paid by their members.

Then there is the disparity between Scotland and the rest of the UK Party in membership fee itself. We don't have a minimum membership fee, only a recommended minimum of £15, while members of the Conservative & Unionist Party in the rest of the UK pay £25 to be a member of the Party. Is it fair that you might pay a few pounds every year to an Association in England but cannot select a local candidate or vote in a leadership election and yet doing the same in Scotland affords you full membership rights, including invitations to Scottish and UK Conference? I don't think that is fair and I don't think it is sustainable for us to demand this disparity remain.

We need to have an open and frank debate about our Constitution and this requires a review to be instructed by our Chairman (which I am delighted to read is imminent). There is nothing to fear from a review of our structures and everything to gain if we get things right for the future.

2) Do we need to change our name in Scotland?

One of the things that is becoming increasingly clear to me is that the brand that it perceived as toxic or anti-Scottish is the "Tory" brand and not necessarily anything associated with the words Conservative or Unionist.

I am not sure I have heard a convincing case for a name change as yet, but could be persuaded of the attraction of changing our name to something new if it prevents our brand name being abbreviated to "Tory".

I am a passionate defender of the Union and a small government, low taxation, tough on crime, big on social responsibility sort of guy - which I guess makes me a pretty big Conservative too. But I am also very committed to the social justice, social action brand of centre right politics being pursued by David Cameron.

By pursuing this agenda, from uniquely Scottish points of view, we will help to establish ourselves as a Party who work for Scotland in Scotland and dispel perceptions of being a Party who simply only care about the rich and ourselves. If I am right then keeping our name will make not one bit of difference.

I am, however, interested in hearing from members who have ideas as to what alternative name should be considered in the event a review of our Constitution recommends a name change as being required?

3) Should Scotland's centre right party be autonomous of the Conservative & Unionist Party in England?

Having proclaimed myself as a defender of the Union, I have to say I don't believe this is necessary. I want our Party to be a party who make a strong case for the Union, not just a defence of it and a case against Independence. This is best achieved by being part of a Party with representation across the United Kingdom so that a common purpose and shared agenda are delivered through common leadership.

If we have uniquely Scottish policy; a track record of delivery in local communities; pursue our agenda of Social Justice in communities (particulalry those in areas of the greatest deprivation); and show Scotland we are evolving as a Party in the way we look and sound, I am sure the people of Scotland will consider we have a sufficient degree of autonomy as a Scottish Party while we maintain our relationship as part of the UK Conservative & Unionist Party.

As I said in my introductory remark, David Cameron is a tremednous asset to our Party here in Scotland and if you believe retaining him as the leader of our Scottish Party is sensible then it is difficult to see how we can practically become autonomous of the UK Party he leads.

4) Do we need an 'A' list to change our personnel?

I was against this when it was first proposed but now see how it has been of some benefit. When David Cameron introduced an 'A' list in England it was roundly criticised but it gave him a "Clause 4" type moment and today the Conservative brand in England is not perceived to be toxic and the parliamentary party he leads looks very different to that he inherited.

I am, however, not convinced we need to follow the same path here in Scotland, particularly as our MSP group has evolved to a greater extent than any other parties over the 11 years of the Scottish Parliament.

At the risk of being unpopular with some of our MSP group, I do believe we should revisit the ranking system we use. I helped lead calls for a One Member One Vote system to rank MSP candidates on Regional Lists but there is a view amongst candidates, and some members, that this system unfairly favours incumbents.

I am attracted to an electoral college system where the Chairman of the Party, Chairman of the Candidates Board, Chairman of each Association within the boundaries of the Region and one representative per 50 members of each of these Associations are all invited to attend a hustings meeting. Based on candidates speeches, a report from the Candidates' Board on each candidates performance in their constituency and the CV provided by each candidate all those present would be asked to rank candidates in the same way as we do currently but without the cost of an expensive one member one vote postal ballot and with the result known on the night.

This seems to me to balance out the need to allow members to have the biggest single influence on ranking of local candidates but with reasonable controls on conduct and cost.

There are of course numerous other ways of modernising our brand and I very much hope to hear your ideas.

Promoting Social Justice in Scottish Conservative Terms

If we are to succeed in convincing a sceptical Scottish electorate to trust us again, we have to convince them Conservative policies will help transform their lives for the better.

In areas of great deprivation across Scotland it is simple fact that decades of Labour rule at a local level, more recently supported by Labour rule at Westminster and from Holyrood, have made lives worse and not better. And yet people living in these areas still turned out in good numbers to elect Labour Members of Parliament just a few weeks ago.

Iain Duncan Smith has pointed the way for Conservatives in Scotland with his work in Easterhouse and through his Centre for Social Justice. It is clear the policies being advocated by Iain can make a difference to people looking for a political party to be on their side and to help them help themselves out of the problems they are in. Why then are we not able to get the message across to people in these areas that they are our priority?

So what do I think we should do? I believe it is time for Associations to adopt a project in their area where Conservative policy is being put to work in order to deliver Social Justice to those most in need of a helping hand. I know there are those who believe we need to be involved in research around a Scottish Social Justice agenda but I think the greatest need is to see action on the ground and to make an impact on those living in despair.

All the evidence based research is there for us to benefit from, thanks to the Centre for Social Justice, so all we need to do now is to turn it into work on the ground.

On a similar but different note, I also believe we should seek to task each of our Associations to become involved in working in their local communities on a Social Action agenda. Many of our members, particularly our Councillors, already set tremendous examples of Conservatives working on the ground in their local communities but we need to formalise this so that the Party can lend a hand when it can and where this is appropriate.

Wouldn't it be great to set ourselves a target that each Associations undertakes a Social Action project in their Constituency at least one day every six months? What each project is should be entirely down to those on the ground, but this sort of continuous work on behalf of constituents can only help to establish our credentials as a Party who care about our local communities.

It would be equally tremendous if that could be backed up by one Scottish Conservative Social Action project that runs over one week every year - something those of us who are interested in this sort of affirmative action travel to to see the project through to completion.

I know some members believe Social Action is too gimmicky and if it is something done simply for a photo and a press release I agree. My own belief is that we need to have a vision for the Scottish Conservative Party which places our actions across Scotland at the forefront of peoples minds when they question which party works hardest in their local community for the benefit of society.

Call it whatever you like but promoting Social Justice in Scottish Conservative Terms through the work we do to help those in need is exactly what we should be about.

Strengthening Conservative Future

Conservative Future Scotland did a fantastic job of mobilising its members to help in constituencies across Scotland at the General Election. Now we need to do everything we can to support and grow this organisation.

They move faster, get through more and have a different view on life than our more mature members, and while they bring with them certain challenges they are an essential part of a vibrant political party.

In East Renfrewshire I was blessed to have the support of a large and very dedicated bunch of young people, largely students, who dedicated Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings - right through the bitter cold of last winter - to the canvass activity that helped grow our vote. Richard Anderson, Ross McFarlane and Colin Taylor, to name just three, did everything they could to coordinate a group of 20+ young activists from Conservative Future branches at Glasgow University, Strathclyde University, Caledonian University and beyond - and what a job they did.

Not that their activities were restricted to canvassing. There were the numerous thousands of leaflets they dropped through doors and the myriad of new ideas they brought forward to the benefit of our campaign.

These guys are from a generation of people who are among the first to have grown up with Labour as the political establishment. They look at the state of our economy and blame lack of job opportunities on our opposition, not the Tories. For them the word "Tory" does not throw up bad memories of Conservative government and in seeking to end perceptions of a toxic brand we should be asking CFS members to be active participants in brand modernisation.

How do we help them? First of all we need to ask them what they need in order to be able to continue to grow and prosper. We are talking about a generation of people who have grown up in an online world and for whom modern campaign techniques are second nature. As a result they have a very different outlook on life and will want to take us in exciting new directions - both in our structure and our campaign activities.

Then we need to help them deliver exciting organisations on the ground. This is particularly the case on University campuses where political celebrity is often used to attract new members. People like Boris Johnson are extremely popular (hence the range of Boris material produced for CF use at Freshers' Fairs) and with a young and dynamic new Prime Minister we need to use the positive images we have to there best advantage.

So, we need to help CF branches organise good local events, with a good profile of speaker, and to support these events in person, where appropriate.

Finally we must recognise than in return for their support of campaigns in our constituencies we need to support them. I hope to organise a CFS summer get together (come conference) in Glasgow to thank them for their support of my campaign in East Renfrewshire. More importantly, I hope this will show Conservative Future Scotland we value their involvement and want to hear from them what direction they believe our Party should now take.

Attracting new talent to our Party (as candidates, office bearers and activists)

Having grown up in the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party I know just how good our members are, but I also know just how badly we need an injection of new blood to make us even better.

Organisationally we urgently need new members to help our Associations with every aspect of their activities.

Fundamentally this means we need to undertake a massive recruitment drive and what better time than now with our pledge base renewed and updated by canvassing for a General Election and a new Conservative led government in place. The majority of people I meet are very enthusiastic that coalition government will deliver something new and exciting and we need to use this to our advantage.

At Association level, we need new people to help run our constituency organisations as Chairmen, Treasurers and Office Bearers. When this is suggested to even the more established of our members a perception that it is time consuming and complex proves to be a barrier to their service.

To make serving local Association's less daunting we must ensure there is an active and comprehensive programme of training available to members who want to find out what specific roles entail. For me this means utilising the resource of some of our longer serving members who are only too happy to lend a hand in training new people from the benefit of their own experience.

So, I believe we need a formal programme to be in place so that every Association knows where and when they can access training as the need arises.

Where we are able to identify support who do not want to join we should be glad of their participation as "activists" - whether that be delivering a street or two with In Touch leaflets or supporting door-to-door canvass sessions. I believe it is time for us to evolve an "activists" programme across the country so that we involve more people in regular activity on behalf of our Party.

In summary we must be an open door to people who share our principles and who want to help.

In terms of attracting new candidates to strengthen our team of talent, I find it dispiriting when I meet people across the country who have all the attributes required to be exceptional candidates but who simply have never thought about it and have never been asked.

We need to recognise that the day is coming, (probably 2015), when we may very well need to field 59 Westminster candidates on the same day as we field 73 Scottish Parliament candidates for elections on the same day and that being able to select from a large pool of quality individuals would serve our Associations well.

How do we attract new talent? I wrote a paper for the Executive Committee on this two years ago putting forward a range of initiatives. The following is indicative and not prescriptive and I am sure members will come up with a hundred new and better suggestions, but should we not be involved in recruitment of candidates through:

i) Advertising in trade journals (targeting people like: lawyers, accountants, doctors, nurses etc.) and in society publications (Countryside Alliance, No.1 Magazine etc.)

ii) Proactive Recruitment by taking stands at Trade Fairs (like: the CBI Scotland Conference, Scottish Chambers Conference, STUC Conference etc.); by taking stalls at Events (like: Scottish Game Fair, Scottish Community Council Association Annual Meeting, Graduates Fairs etc.); and by engaging in direct mail targeted at individuals who are active in their local communities and who have shown they have something to offer their Country.

We also need to have structures capable of reaching out to people in local communities so that the public spirited in each area are at least asked to consider extending their public service by standing for election as a Conservative candidate.

This is an issue I feel strongly about and I believe we need a formal committee within the Party to take recruitment, at every level, forward. If we do establish this committee it needs to have a range of expertise round the table from former SCUA and SCUP officers to members of our professional staff and experts in recruitment.

Improving policy development through member participation

I believe the revival of our Party needs to be policy led if we are to attract significant numbers of Scots to vote for us again, or indeed for a first time.

If elected to serve as Deputy Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party I will make reinvigorating our Conservative Policy Forum a priority for the voluntary party, so that every member who wants to have an opportunity to input their ideas to policy development is able to do so.

I would like to see CPF send out monthly discussion papers to Associations asking members to discuss an area of policy and to send a summary of discussions back to the centre so that we can collate the thoughts of members from across Scotland and enter new ideas into discussion with relevant members of Annabel's team at Holyrood or with David Mundell and relevant members of David Cameron's team at Westminster.

With a proper channel for input from members, together with advice from expert panels in each policy field, we can help colleagues at Holyrood and at Westminster formulate new and exciting policy designed to engage and to appeal to Scots in communities the length and breadth of our country.

Complimentary to development of new policy is a strategy as to how we present new policy to a Scottish electorate who are sceptical about Conservative intentions as a result of their perceptions of our past. I often refer to us needing to give people who might consider voting Conservative just three or four things to tell friends and family, when they sit down to dinner, are the reason why they will be voting Conservative next time.

For me this means we need to do what our opposition do - simply tell the electorate the things in our portfolio of policies which are overwhelmingly popular. Our policies on crime are a good example of an area of policy where we connect with the aspirations of the Scottish people and yet how many people whose lives are blighted by criminal activity on a daily basis know the detail of our policy?

We are the ones saying life should mean life; that the time you are sentenced to is the time your should serve; that people who carry knives on our streets should expect to go to jail for doing so; and that prison should not be like a hotel with a better range of TV channels than many people enjoy at home. Except for a lawless few in our society, these are messages which chime with the attitudes of Scottish people and we need to develop a range of similar messages in every policy field which mirror the popularity of our law and order policies.

Our task then is to communicate a range of popular policies to an electorate crying out for a sensible alternative at Holyrood who can demonstrate a range of policies designed to sort our country out while bringing hope to areas where there is little to be hopeful about, just as David Cameron has managed to do at Westminster.

To play our part, the voluntary wing of the Party needs to ensure we are organised at constituency level and capable of getting leaflets through doors explaining our policies. In return I am advocating members are afforded a chance to input ideas to policy development and are consulted as to the way policy is presented.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Actions speak louder than words!

It matters what we say but it matters even more what we do in our local communities.

By working tirelessly to demonstrate to the people of Scotland that we mean what we say and that the policies will deliver a better Scotland we can turn around our brand image and make voting Conservative an easier prospect to entertain.

So here are just a few ideas as to what this could mean for a modern Scottish Conservative Party:

When the most vulnerable in our communities are at risk we need to be the ones there to help them. When snow falls on the ground we should have teams of activists ready to help elderly residents of sheltered housing complexes by clearing paths and pavements so they can get out and about safely.

The NHS is the public's No. 1 priority and it must be our top priority too. We need to campaign for a better NHS across Scotland and do so by being involved in local health issues. Access to world class health services, free at the point of delivery is what we are all about.

Taking an active interest in local employers and their problems means we can help create new jobs and protect those at risk in difficult economic times.

People care about their public services and so do we. So campaigning with local Councillors for better provision of services, even something as simple as more books in our libraries, is what we need to be all about.

We need to be the Party who ensure School buildings are fit for purpose and who look to better ways of funding refurbishment of existing schools and new build projects. It is our Councillor's who are closest to this issue and who get the complaints and requests for help from local parents. I believe we need to consult with them more often to ensure our education policies at local and national level provide a comprehensive platform for improving our schools estate.

A Record of Party Service

I hope my record of political activity speaks for itself.

As both a Westminster and a Scottish parliamentary candidate, in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, I have increased the Conservative vote every time – even when there has been a swing against the Party nationally. I travel across the country addressing lunch clubs and constituency functions as often as I can and am a regular contributor to radio and TV broadcasts, including a prominent role in the recent BBC Documentary “Why Didn’t Scots Vote Tory?” presented by Sally Magnusson, as well as contributing newspaper commentaries.

Political Experience (abbreviated version):

1985 - Joined Eastwood Young Conservatives

1993 to 1995 - Chairman of West of Scotland Young Conservatives
2001 - Westminster Candidate for Glasgow Cathcart
2003 - Scottish Parliament Candidate for Glasgow Cathcart
2003 to 2004 - Chairman of Glasgow Regional Campaign Forum

2004 to 2005 - Chairman of Glasgow Cathcart Conservative Association
2005 - Westminster Candidate for East Renfrewshire
2005 to 2006 - Chairman of East Renfrewshire Conservative &Unionist Association
2005 - Scottish Parliament By-Election Candidate for Glasgow Cathcart
2006 to 2008 - Vice Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party
2007 - Agent for Scottish Parliament and Council Candidates in East Renfrewshire
2010 - Westminster Candidate for East Renfrewshire