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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 18:28 GMT

UK Politics: Talking Politics

Tories start to sing 'Things can only get better'

The Scottish week at Westminster by David Porter, BBC Scotland Parliamentary Correspondent

''What do you call a Tory MP in Scotland?'' goes the question. The answer: ''A tourist''. Since the Conservative wipe-out north of the border at last year's general election, that's been a favourite joke among non-Tory politicians of whatever persuasion in Scotland.

But while a Conservative Commons Scottish seat is as rare as a snowflake in hell, that's not the case in the House of Lords, where as we know there are Tories aplenty - many of them from Scotland.

Now none of them would try and pretend that this has been a good week for the Conservatives. The sacking of Viscount Cranborne as Tory leader in the Lords, secretly brokering a deal with Tony Blair over reforming the upper chamber, caused real concern.

Support for secret deal

[ image: Lord Fraser resigned as deputy Tory leader in the Lords more in sorrow than in anger]
Lord Fraser resigned as deputy Tory leader in the Lords more in sorrow than in anger
While Conservative MPs may have approved of William Hague's smack of firm leadership in dismissing Lord Cranborne, that was not how their lordships, Scottish or otherwise, saw it. They quite liked the agreement Lord Cranborne had arrived at to preserve nearly 100 hereditary peers.

For some it was all too much. Lord Cranborne's deputy, Lord Peter Fraser, the former Scottish Lord Advocate, decided to pack his ermine and resign too. He was quoted as saying he was ''disgusted and appalled'' by William Hague's decision.

In fact, Lord Fraser denies using such language. He said he was more ''perplexed'' by the way the Tory leader had reacted. In reality, his resignation was more in sorrow than anger. He believes William Hague has been out manoeuvred, saying the Conservatives had managed to ''snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory".

It was also all too much for another Scottish Tory in the Lords. Baroness Stranger from Perthshire, famous for her loud tartan dresses, was so upset by the whole affair that she went one step further and resigned the Tory whip altogether - moving to be an independent, or crossbench, peer.

Scots move on up

[ image: Viscount Cranborne: His sacking as leader of the Tories' peers sparked off the turmoil]
Viscount Cranborne: His sacking as leader of the Tories' peers sparked off the turmoil
While some Scottish Tory peers were leaving, others were being promoted to fill the vacancies caused by the resignations. Lord Strathclyde has become the New Tory leader in the Lords. He's previously been a chief whip both in government and opposition, and he knows the workings of those who sit on the red leather benches very well indeed.

He's popular among his colleagues and political foes alike and is part of the old Tory patrician school of politics. They believe it's their duty to serve, and generally do so with good grace and humour.

Also promoted was Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. He becomes deputy Tory leader in the Lords. A former maths teacher at Oban High School and a former Scottish education minister, he's a wily tactician and political operator.

He caused the government more than a few headaches during the passage of the Scotland Bill, and knows how to rile his political opponents.

Both Lord Strathclyde and Lord Mackay freely admit that this has not been the best of week's for the Conservative cause. But in the words of the song, after the last few days ''things can only get better''!

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