I wrote here a few days ago that I thought it probable that "on the surface all will be sweetness and light tomorrow at the conference, but I think most Scottish Conservatives know in their hearts that all is not well". That, more or less, is what transpired. David Cameron praised the Scottish Conservative leadership under Annabel Goldie and used his conference speech to issue a mild rebuke to David Mundell:
"People send me all sorts of interesting advice about Scotland - although, frankly, sometimes it would perhaps be best if they kept it to themselves."
after having earlier declined to contemplate removing Mr Mundell (from his position as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland). Mr Mundell did not appear at the conference on Friday, in a change of schedule (ho! ho!), but when he did speak on Saturday he attempted to defuse the damage publication of his memo had caused by paying tribute to Annabel Goldie:
"I believe a great deal has been achieved in the party both across the UK and here in Scotland in recent months, but one thing is clear.
"We will not be able to continue to change as a party or make the electoral strides we want to if we cannot have a full and frank discussion within our party without fear that anything which is said will make its way into the media.
"I am deeply disappointed to have found myself drawn into an attempted distraction but I remain resolute in our sole objective of seeing an increase in the number of Scottish Conservative councillors, MSPs and MPs.
"I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot remember a conference where there have not been attempts to divert us from our main business."
- but he made no apology for the actual content of his memo and his remarks quoted above sound to me as if they were specially concocted to help get the Party and himself through what was going to be a difficult conference session. Although Ms Goldie and her deputy Peter Duncan are reported to have applauded 'dutifully' at the end of Mundell's speech her hands reportedly remained unmoved during his opening comments during which she sat stony-faced. Ms Goldie for her part used the old Conservative standby in her own closing speech to say that if the Scottish Conservatives controlled the Scottish Executive (after the May elections) she would take a tough line on law and order - but as no-one, not even amongst the faithful in the conference hall I imagine, seriously imagines there is even the remotest chance of that happening, this pledge strikes me as the words of a lady who knows the game is up and just wants the disaster area that is the conference to end as quickly as possible so that she can receive the obligatory 'standing ovation' and get herself off home - no doubt to a much-needed stiff drink. So much was predictable.
Now I see that the Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday newspaper has news in today's edition of a second memo written by Mr Mundell which has 'leaked' its way into the public prints, in which the hapless Mr Mundell apparently tabulated his views on each of the Party's 18 MSPs. No-one, not even the apopleptic Mr Eugenides, can bring himself to disagree with the basic points Mr Mundell is reported to have made in this latest memo, even if he considers it the height of folly to have written it all down. At one level I agree with the good Mr Eugenides, but to be quite honest my stronger feeling is that the Scottish Conservatives have been living in political 'la-la land' for so long that the harshness of the lesson they are currently being forced to learn about themselves, that they are completely out of touch and need to re-think everything about how they do politics in Scotland, has not come a moment too soon. As well as writing about the leaked memo, Alan Simpson at 'Scottish Tories are Doomed' reports on another Scotland on Sunday article (which I had not seen before) about the lively comment taking place throughout Scottish Tory political blogland and concludes by speculating that the Scottish Conservatives will take a long time to rebuild their fortunes, but that it would be unwise to write them off completely, even given their current parlous situation (that last bit is my comment).
Can the Scottish Conservatives hold onto their current level of representation at Holyrood after the forthcoming elections in May? Possibly. It is highly unlikely, in my view, that they can expect any improvement. Their main job should be to get through the next seven and a half weeks until polling day wihtout shooting any more bullets into their collective feet; if they can do that then I hope wiser heads within the Party (who exist, I hope) can at last begin to examine what they should be doing as a Party in today's Scotland, because the way they have been doing things in recent years is leading them to slow extinction. Do enough people yet recognise this and have they got the courage to change course?