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MIX AND MATCH; Tories will vote for any party in new Parliament.

UNDER-FIRE Scots Tory leader David McLetchie yesterday spelled out his "pick and mix" politics for the Scottish Parliament.

He said his party would back Labour to defend the union, and join forces with the SNP and Lib-Dems to scupper Labour's introduction of university tuition fees.

In fact, McLetchie plans to make and break alliances with whichever party suits him, "issue by issue".

He insisted that he would not give Labour a "blank cheque" but made it clear that if a no- confidence vote was forced in the Parliament, they would back Labour to prevent the break-up of the United Kingdom.

He ruled out any long term deals with any parties, but said that they would take their position on an issue by issue basis.

Mr McLetchie said that on tuition fees, which he branded "Labour's greatest betrayal", the Tories could make common cause with the SNP and the Scottish Lib Dems.

Similarly, he claimed they could work with Labour on housing issues because "you can hardly put a paper between us on this".

He said : "Rather than a coalition stitched up in a backstairs deal which ties partners to programme for a full Parliament, I believe alliances will be formed on an issue by issue basis.

"All of Scotland's parties will have to get used to strange bedfellows."

He denied reports that a deal had been struck with Labour, guaranteeing Tory support which would allow Donald Dewar to form a minority administration.

Reports of the deal with Labour, and a whispering campaign against McLetchie's leadership, dominated the two-day conference in Perth.

Party managers played down rumours of moves to dump Mcletchie after the elections.

But speaker after speaker, including party leader William Hague and former Scots Secretaries Sir Michael Forsyth and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, took the gossip sufficiently seriously to publicly pledge their support to the Edinburgh lawyer.

McLetchie insisted: "I have the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the membership, certainly of the candidates.

"I don't know of anyone whispering in the dark and it's of no interest to me. Our job is to fight the election and put forward the Conservative case.

"I intend to lead the party in the Parliament."

Former MP Phil Gallie, beaten by McLetchie in the leadership contest, said : "I am 100 per cent behind David's leadership. He has done a great job so far."

He added: "When comparing him to the other three party leaders you have to remember that he is new on the political scene. But I am sure that in four or five years time he will be in front of them."

In his speech to delegates, McLetchie concentrated his attack on the SNP.

He said: "Every extra seat for the Tories is one less for the separatists."

He was accorded the customary standing ovation, but he is clearly not yet comfortable in his front-line role.

Last night, the SNP claimed Labour activists would be "squirming with embarrassment" at the Tory announcement of support for Donald Dewar.

SNP constitutional affairs spokesman George Reid said: "New Labour and the old Tories will be quite at home with each other in the Scottish Parliament because they share the same policy objectives."
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Author:King, Dave
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Words:529
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