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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Senior Tory defects to new party
Keith Harding
Keith Harding had been a Tory MSP
A senior politician has quit the Scottish Tories and defected to a rival party.

Keith Harding, who was the Conservative's local government spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, is to stand as a candidate for the Scottish People's Alliance (SPA).

The SPA is a centre right party which was officially launched last week in preparation for the Holyrood elections on 1 May.

Mr Harding had been due to contest the Central Fife seat on behalf of the Conservatives and was also fifth on the regional list for Mid-Scotland and Fife.

Switch parties

But he will now contest the Stirling seat for the SPA and will also top the party's Mid-Scotland and Fife list.

The announcement of his defection came just hours before Scots Tory leader David McLetchie was due to get the party's election campaign under way with a poster launch in Edinburgh.

Mr Harding, 64, who was a Conservative Party member for more than 20 years and a former leader of Stirling Council, defended his decision to switch parties at the 11th hour.

He denied he had attempted to cause the Tories any embarrassment with the timing of his announcement.

He said: "I was elected under the Tory banner and I fulfilled my commitment, but from midnight last night I was no longer a Conservative MSP, so I decided to join a new party.

When I read the SPA manifesto it appealed to me and I would like to fight the election on it.
Keith Harding

"I just feel there is a disenfranchised electorate out there that is centre right and no party in Scotland is addressing that.

"When I read the SPA manifesto it appealed to me and I would like to fight the election on it."

Mr Harding said it was "unfortunate" that his announcement coincided with the beginning of the Tory election campaign.

He added: "I've got no criticism of the Tory Party. I won't be fighting a dirty campaign, I will be fighting on the policies of the SPA."

Mr Harding's main achievement as an MSP was the introduction of his Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill, which will see pet owners handed on-the-spot fines if they do no clean up after their animals.

Abolish Scotland's MPs

The SPA's Holyrood manifesto proposes the abolition of the Scottish Parliament in its present form.

Instead, Holyrood and Westminster would be merged into a single legislature by abolishing the role of Scotland's MPs.

A total of 56 MSPs would then fulfil both roles - sitting for part of the time at Westminster on UK issues and for part of the time in Edinburgh in the former Royal High School building.

The Holyrood complex - now nearing completion -would also be sold off in order to prevent "waste".

Among the party's other policies are the reduction of the voting age to 16, income tax being slashed by three pence and the abolition of Scottish Enterprise.


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