HenryG looks at the betting for the leadership contest
Some of my best political bets have been with the Conservatives. Duncan Smith (33/1) and Cameron (11/1) have both come up trumps for me in the past. Now that we know the names of qualifying candidates for the Scottish Conservative leader and have seen them in action at conference there is one name that leaps out in value. Jackson Carlaw looks tidily placed to mop up from his more fancied opponentsâ€™ weaknesses and possibly land the prize.
Murdo Fraser (6/4 Stan James) started as the front runner but his bid has been harmed by the idea to wind up the Scottish Conservative Party and rename it The Caledonians, Scotland First or the Scottish Reform Party. To some itâ€™s too superficial, to others itâ€™s too extreme and represents an enormous political risk. I hear that it featured throughout the hustings debate in Manchester and has now made Fraser quite a polarising character. My conclusion is that if he doesnâ€™t get your first preference because of this heâ€™s reasonably unlikely to get your second or third vote.
Ruth Davidson (4/5 William Hill) is popular among the partyâ€™s big hitters and has won a number of endorsements from Lord Strathclyde and David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland. At 32 the former journalist was formerly head of Annabelle Goldieâ€™s office and is also said to be Cameronâ€™s favoured candidate. She has had to defend herself from complaints about having access to the party membership email list as well as accusations she has benefited from support from the Conservative Party staff resulting in the suspension of the party’s top spin doctor in Scotland. These all reflect her insider status and are likely to backfire and annoy activists. In an ideal world her sexuality would not be an issue, but as with Michael Portillo itâ€™s unlikely to be an asset with the partyâ€™s more traditional membership.
Jackson Carlaw (10/1 Paddy Power) has a number of qualities traditional Conservative members look for. In direct contrast to Davidson he is experienced and speaks of his 30 years of service to the party, talks of an inclusive approach that represents an â€˜evolutionâ€™ to Fraserâ€™s â€˜revolutionâ€™. Carlaw has quite a punchy leadership style that will appeal to members looking for someone with spirit to take on Salmond. According to the BBCâ€™s Brian Taylor he â€˜put on a feisty showâ€™ at Conference hustings and his theme â€˜appeals to basic Conservative attitudesâ€™.
Carlawâ€™s failure to beat Labour leadership contender Ken Macintosh in Eastwood is a downside but doesnâ€™t appear to have held him back. His call for an early referendum is straightforward and smart politics. Michael White described him as â€˜the Granniesâ€™ favouriteâ€™ which may be a little uncharitable, but since Granniesâ€™ votes count the same as all others Iâ€™m sure he wonâ€™t mind too much.
Margaret Mitchell (25/1 Paddy Power) is somewhat of a maverick MSP who joined the race late. Thereâ€™s little to suggest she will finish higher than fourth.
This is an 8,500 strong member-only ballot and Iâ€™ve got a feeling that Carlaw is going to poll well among those most motivated to vote. Thereâ€™s every reason to suggest that he has momentum and is coming up on the rails. I think itâ€™s perfectly possible he will defy the odds and finish in the top two in the first round of voting since his main opponents each have major negatives to their campaigns (as did Clarke and Portillo in 2001). Heâ€™d then be well placed to benefit from the preferences of rival supporters. The 10/1 with Paddy Power on Carlaw winning looks seriously good value and quite mistaken. Anything over 7/2 is tasty. Heâ€™s the only one Iâ€™d be confident of holding good value and Iâ€™ve put down what theyâ€™ll allow me. If you want to watch the recording of the conference hustings for yourself check out the BBC Parliament channel this evening for the showing of their recording beginning around 7pm.