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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
European question rattles Clarke
Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke defends his position on Europe
Conservative leadership contender Ken Clarke was rattled by a barrage of questions on Europe during an address to Scottish Tories.

The agitated Tory leftwinger told the 500 gathered in Perth that if the issues of the single currency and the UK's future in Europe were allowed to dominate then the party would remain out of office "for a very, very long time".

He said: "I served on cabinets where people had different views on Europe, but we did not have an ideological battle in public.

"I cannot see for the life of me why my views are decisive on an issue which has divided us for years."

David McLetchie
David McLetchie: Called for unity
Both Mr Clarke and fellow contender Iain Duncan Smith are north of the Border taking part in the final battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party nationally.

Earlier on Saturday the head of Scotland's Tories, David McLetchie, urged party members to get behind whichever candidate wins the leadership battle.

He said he would not publicly single out whom he wanted to win the contest involving Mr Clarke and Mr Duncan Smith.

Mr McLetchie told the gathering in Perth: "I have expressed and will express no public preference between them.

'Off in a huff'

"But what I do pledge is my wholehearted unequivocal 100% support for the victor, and I expect everyone else in this party to have the sense and maturity to do the same.

"I've no time for folk who go off in a huff when there's work to be done."

The party's London headquarters announced on Friday that more than half of its members had already voted in the leadership contest.

Peter Duncan
Peter Duncan: Westminster success
Acting Tory chairman David Prior said that 181,300 votes - from the 318,000 membership - had been cast at the half way stage in the ballot.

With voting due to close in 12 days time, both candidates now know how many votes are still up for grabs as they take the campaign trail to Scotland.

The conference opened with Euro MP Struan Stevenson MEP and European group leader, Edward Macmillan-Scott.

Mr McMillan-Scott warned the party not repeat previous errors on Europe.

He said the Tories should unite and provide a coherent message on Europe as they did at the 1999 European Parliament elections.

One of the loudest cheers of the day was reserved for Peter Duncan, the Ayrshire man who put the Scottish Tories back in Westminster by taking Galloway and Upper Nithsdale in the June election.

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See also:

01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Duncan Smith on campaign march
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Tories hear unity call
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Scots Tory conference - agenda
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Scots quiz Tory hopefuls
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
McLetchie makes Tory unity plea
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