THE Conservatives were so “toxic” in Scotland during the devolution referendum that the No-No side was secretly relieved they sat out of the campaign, its manager has revealed.

Brian Monteith said the party’s presence could have easily made matters worse after the Labour landslide of 1997 wiped out all 11 Tory MPs north of the border.

He also said the Tories missed out by not embracing devolution after the Yes-Yes vote.

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If they had, the party might not have waited four Holyrood terms for a revival, he said.

Recalling the “obliterated” state of the Scottish Conservatives after Tony Blair came to power, he said: “There were some in the party who were dead keen to push devolution.

“There was a special conference held in Perth where the party had to decide what to do and took the view that the parliament would be a bad idea but not to campaign.

“In some respects, we in the Think Twice campaign were quite grateful for that. The Tories had become so toxic we weren’t sure if they were really going to help or not.”

Mr Monteith, who was a Tory MSP in the early years of devolution, said the party rightly agreed to work with the parliament after the Yes vote, but suffered by being half-hearted.

He said: “Where the Conservatives made their error was not seeking to expand the powers of the parliament so it would become accountable.

“That’s taken another 10, 15 years through various reforms, but most of the time the Conservatives have been reluctant to do that.

“They could have had a revival sooner if they had just embraced the parliament more.”

Mr Monteith, who quit the Tories in 2005 and now runs the ThinkScotland website, said he still saw Holyrood as “a mistake” and felt “vindicated” over his warnings 20 years ago, although he did approve of the greater scrutiny of public spending under devolution.

He said: “Some of those risks have materialised. Even last week, with Nicola Sturgeon’s suggestion that she might start increasing taxes, some of the things we suggested then could happen are back on the agenda. It makes me feel vincidated in as much as we are beginning to see the true colours of some of the politicians in there.”

He also said the parliament remained immature, because it failed to admits its errors, and failed to reflect on whether the legislation it passed had the desired outcome.

He said: “Can you name me any Bill that became law that the Scottish Parliament has repealed? I’m scratching my head to think of one. The Scottish Parliament is not very good at accepting it may have contributed to the fact that education is worse, that our economy has generally lagged behind the UK’s, that we have a huge housing shortage.

“Some things have got better in Wales and England, but in lots of things in Scotland we’ve lagged behind. Yet I see no mea culpas coming from Holyrood.

“I think we could have achieved most of what it’s done without having a parliament. How different would Scotland have been if we didn’t have the Scottish Parliament? We might actually have betters schools. I’m sure we could still have the Queensferry Crossing. I think we could have had better governance without having 129 MSPs, but they’re there.”