Scotland

Best of the rest from the Scottish Tory conference

The Scottish Conservatives would prove they are the "party of the NHS" by scrapping free prescriptions and promoting an abstinence-only policy to drug addiction, party candidates told the Tory spring conference in Perth.

Iain McGill, who is standing for the party in the May Holyrood elections, said the scrapping of free prescriptions by the SNP government was a "misuse of scarce resources and politically irresponsible".

And another candidate, Jason Lingiah, said heroin addicts "parked on methadone" were costing the NHS millions of pounds every year.

Scottish Tory health spokesman Murdo Fraser, told the conference: "As from next month, the SNP government in Scotland are giving everyone free prescriptions.

"That means people who are millionaires, members of Parliament, and many others who can well afford to pay a small contribution towards the costs of their medicines, will in future get them for free - we don't think that that is a good use of precious resources."

Conservative education spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith urged Holyrood's other parties to "tell the truth" over plans to fund higher education in Scotland.

The Tories have backed the introduction of a graduate contribution to plug a funding gap they claim will be more than £200m year, while the Scottish government has put the shortfall at some £90m.

The call came after the UK government backed plans which would allow universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year in student tuition fees.

Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems have all opposed the introduction of fees in Scotland.

Ms Smith told the conference: "I would dearly love to be able to stand in front of any audience, just as the SNP, Labour and the Liberals have done and say it will all be free.

"But to do so would be a gross dereliction of our duty to students, to staff, and to college and university principals and their courts, because, whatever arithmetic is used, the very blunt fact remains that the state cannot afford to pay if we want to aspire to all the ambitions for our further and higher education sectors, and not just for the next few years but well into the future."

Former Tory Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth said the Scotland Bill will be "the rock on which Britain will founder", despite his party's backing for the legislation.

The peer's comments came as he went head-to-head with deputy Scottish Conservative leader Murdo Fraser over the plans to increase Holyrood's tax powers.

Lord Forsyth, who spearheaded the campaign against devolution in the 1990s, told a fringe meeting at the conference: "The truth is this is a time bomb at the heart of the union."

But Mr Fraser said the bill would ensure the Scottish government - whose budget is currently wholly funded through a Treasury grant - would be more accountable for the cash it spends.

The MSP told the meeting: "There is no question, when these proposals are implemented, of Scotland losing out.

"These proposals represent a major extension of the Scottish Parliament's tax powers."

Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson compared Iran to the Nazis and claimed Pakistan's only Christian minister was assassinated because the country's "biased" government failed to protect him.

Mr Stevenson, president of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq, said Iran was "manipulating" the uprisings in the Middle East to impose a nuclear-armed "Shia hegemony".

He said his own investigations had shown that Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the Pakistan government, who was assassinated two weeks ago for fighting to overturn the country's anti-blasphemy laws, was the only minister who was not given an armoured car or a security guard around his home by the Pakistan government.

The MEP told the conference: "Now that smacks to me of a singular bias, perhaps because he was a Christian minister."

Labour's Holyrood election slogan should be "Not Iain, Just Gray", the Conservatives' only Scottish MP said.

Scotland Office minister David Mundell's comments came following Gordon Brown's previous "not flash, just Gordon" PR campaign.

Turning to the election, Mr Mundell said Annabel Goldie was the only party leader who "tells it like it is".