Downing Street parties: Boris Johnson betrayed the people of Britain and Douglas Ross is right to call for his resignation – Murdo Fraser MSP

We all think we know about leadership because at some point we have all been led.

It is rather like we all think we know about education because we have all been to school. But thinking you know about leadership just because you have been led is like thinking you know how to teach just because you have been taught – understandable, but wrong.

In the current climate, we have two contrasting styles of leadership, both within the Conservative Party – those of Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross.

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As a lifelong, loyal Tory I wish this could just be a matter of private grief, but the contrast is all too public. In circumstances like these, the loyal thing to do is not to hide.

I unequivocally back Douglas Ross in his decision to call for the Prime Minister to resign. I do so in part because I know how difficult it was for him to make it, but most fundamentally because he is right.

This is not to say that Boris Johnson’s qualities as a leader should be dismissed.

He has a remarkable ability to connect with people of all classes, if not all nations. He has an infectious belief that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it. And he has a vision that brooks no orthodoxy. His levelling-up agenda is something that should be pursued across the United Kingdom for years to come.

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Douglas Ross put principle before party in calling for Boris Johnson's resignation (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)Douglas Ross put principle before party in calling for Boris Johnson's resignation (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Douglas Ross put principle before party in calling for Boris Johnson's resignation (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

But the Prime Minister’s desire to get through the moment, his repulsion towards accepting blame, has led to a crisis in trust in political leadership in this country that goes beyond party politics.

The decision, conscious or otherwise, to relax Covid rules for those who work and live in 10 Downing Street was a betrayal of the people of this country who stuck by the rules and were prepared to be led. The policy of cover-up and denial, when the truth became apparent, turned a wrong into a wound.

People are prepared to hear uncomfortable truths and forgive mistakes. It is more difficult to forgive deliberate lies and an unwillingness to be candid.

That could appear to make Douglas Ross’s decision to call on him to go as an easy one – it was not. A Scottish Tory leader has never previously called on the UK leader to stand down.

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If Douglas had done so just to appease those Scottish Tory members and voters who dislike the Prime Minister, he would have been wrong. It would have been close to the “getting through the moment” tactics which have undone Mr Johnson.

If it was done to try to win over critics of the Prime Minister to the Tory cause, it would have been ill-thought through. Plenty of other parties were set against Mr Johnson well before this crisis.

If it had been an attempt to make a unilateral declaration of independence for the Scottish Tory party, it would have been ham-fisted. I have long argued for a more distinct Scottish Tory Party – a belief that has cost me over the years – but this is not the way to achieve it. I have far too much respect for my colleagues who oppose this change than to try to bounce them into it because of difficulties in Downing Street.

No, Douglas Ross’s decision was right not just in fact, but because of what I believe was the intent behind it. The belief that true, strong leadership comes at a personal cost. That the right thing to do for the long term comes at a price. That risks must be taken to stand up for the standards you believe in.

His decision was right because it is part of a vision for politics and the country. The next chapter in an unfolding story, the next logical step in an argument.

Leadership that is open and honest, prepared to argue a case and not to take criticism as failure. One in tune with the rhythm of the nation, not just the cycle of the news.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington resigned not because he was to blame, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he believed that the honour of high office came with the willingness to take responsibility. I believe that is not just an honourable tradition, but an essential clause in the contract of trust between those in office and the people they serve.

In making his call, I believe that Douglas Ross was echoing those values. There should be no sense of self-congratulation in the Scottish Tory leadership, nor indeed is there. This is returning to the right standards, a commitment to do the right thing, to stick to a course based on principles, and not to be tossed around by the weather but to try to make it.

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The burdens borne last week set up greater ones for this week, next week and every week to come. Upon it must be built a vision not just of how politicians should act, but what actions we want to take to improve our country. Douglas Ross put principle and public realm before party and that is what makes his decision right – judging the moment and taking the action.

Scotland, in particular, has been ill-served by political leadership that has always put party interest first. The soundbite before the sound policy. The personal popularity ratings ahead better public services.

That is why we have a First Minister who can capture the front page of Vogue while children from poor backgrounds cannot grasp a qualification, nor the sick claim their place in a hospital bed.

If Douglas Ross had just drawn a line in the sand, it would have been enough. What makes it true leadership is that he outlined a direction of travel to a better politics and a better Scotland.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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