Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 15:43 GMT
Tories demand permanent Scots Parliament
Malcolm Rifkind: Consolation of opposition is to be able to start from scratch
Scottish Conservatives are calling for a "binding commitment" from Westminster to the continued existence of the Scottish Parliament.
The party, which once opposed devolution, now wants Scotland to be an "equal partner" within the United Kingdom.
He said: "One of the few consolations of the impotence of opposition is to be able to start from scratch and say what are the priorities for the future, how are we going to address these issues in this moment in time?"
He added: "We have not been constrained by the past, by either our achievements in the past, or by our disappointments in the past."
Sir Malcolm offered no apologies for the Tories previous hostility to home rule.
The Tories say they hope to entrench the new parliament against Westminster and they will oppose any tax increases.
On health, they back a Royal Commission, a review body for nurses pay and moves to defend local hospitals.
On education, they favour the abolition of college tuition fees and they would bring back school uniforms.
Scotland can achieve 'golden age'
Other reforms include support for directly elected provosts. The report, Scotland's Future, also calls for a Scottish premier and government rather than first minister and executive.
Such is their new found enthusiasm for devolution the Tories say Scotland can achieve a new "golden age" comparable to the century following the Act of Union in 1707.
The document will become the basis for the party's Scottish election manifesto but rival parties say the Tory switch on devolution is unconvincing.
SNP chief executive Mike Russell said: "The fact is that the Tories say one thing in Scotland, but do the precise opposite at Westminster - where the party is controlled."
Scottish Devolution Minister Henry McLeish said the Tory turnaround was "too little, too late".
Mr McLeish said: "Why is Malcolm Rifkind worrying about the title of the first minister now? This issue was extensively debated during the Scotland Bill.
"If he'd had his way, we wouldn't even have a parliament, let alone a first minister.
"It's too late for the Tories to convince Scots they can be trusted with Scotland's parliament. They opposed devolution every step of the way and they don't believe in it now."
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