THE leadership race for the Scottish Conservative party kicked off in earnest last night after MSP Jackson Carlaw announced he would be running for the vacant post.
Mr Carlaw, 52, became the first person to confirm his candidacy, starting a contest that is set to run throughout the autumn.
The new leader will take over from Annabel Goldie, who announced following the May election that she would step down after six years in the job, when the party lost ground in its share of the vote.
The official process for finding her replacement gets under way this week as party members receive details on how the election will take place.
Mr Carlaw said last night: "It is my intention to stand. I consulted widely over the summer. I believe I have a significant degree of support."
The MSP for the West of Scotland region, Mr Carlaw is a former deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservatives. He was elected to Holyrood in 2007.
It is widely expected that he will soon be joined by the party's deputy leader Murdo Fraser and by new MSP Ruth Davidson, with the prospect of other candidates also coming forward.
A party conference in September will confirm new rules on electing a leader, with the incumbent expected to be announced after a party ballot on 4 November.
Mr Carlaw, who is married with two sons, will stand on a 25-year record with the Tory party, which includes stints as chairman of the Scottish Young Conservatives and as a board member of the UK Conservatives.
He was the party's health spokesman in the previous parliament, currently holds the transport brief, and is expected to carry plenty of membership support.
Confirmation of Mr Carlaw's candidacy now paves the way for a major debate within the party over how it should approach what is likely to be the key issue of the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Allies say Mr Carlaw will put himself forward as the "this far and no further" candidate, arguing that the current mix of powers between Holyrood and Westminster is the right one.
That will offer a major contrast to Mr Fraser, who is a long-time advocate of more powers for Holyrood, on the grounds that the parliament should be responsible for the money it spends.
Party sources say Ms Davidson is likely to position herself as "open-minded" on the constitutional question.