By Tom Peterkin
WITH phone-hacking fever infecting David Cameron in London, it is easy to forget the phoney war currently being waged by the Conservatives north of the Border as they ponder over who will replace Annabel Goldie.
Not a vote has been cast yet and the new leader will not be announced until the beginning of November. But in the meantime there is much manoeuvring behind the scenes as the runners-and-riders jostle for position.
Murdo Fraser can be expected to declare his candidature over the summer, probably before a meeting of the full party scheduled for the beginning of September.
There, he will be able to press the flesh and persuade the faithful that he is the man to lead.
The signs are that Jackson Carlaw will also stand, despite his credibility taking a battering from Labour in the nominally Conservative seat of Eastwood in May.
A battle between Fraser and Carlaw will give members the choice of two candidates with quite distinct views on the constitution – which mirror a fault line within the party at large.
One colleague described Carlaw as a "pre-devolutionist", a description that might be a bit over-the-top given that he is hardly likely to publicly call for the abolition of the Holyrood Parliament. But what is well known within the party is that Carlaw does not share Goldie’s enthusiasm for the Scotland Bill that will increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Fraser, on the other hand, wants more powers for the parliament and advocates full fiscal autonomy.
His willingness to embrace further constitutional change could prove problematic on the doorsteps when trying to persuade voters of the difference between Fraser’s full fiscal autonomy and Alex Salmond’s independence lite.
So is there room for another candidate to come up through the middle? Before Derek Brownlee lost his seat at the election, it was assumed that most MSPs, including Goldie, would coalesce around him. Even though non-MSPs are allowed to stand in the one-member-one-vote election, his departure has realistically ruled him out.
John Lamont was another of the next generation of Conservatives tipped as a contender. But so far his undoubted effectiveness in his constituency has not translated into a higher profile on the national stage. Gavin Brown, the able MSP for Lothian, would be a strong candidate but shows little sign of throwing his hat into the ring
That leaves another of the "bright young things" Ruth Davidson, the new MSP on the Glasgow list who is considering standing. She takes a pragmatic view of the constitution that is pro-Scotland Bill but not as radical as Fraser.
There is, of course, the issue that she is a brand new face at Holyrood. But so was David McLetchie when he entered Holyrood as leader in 1999.