Scottish Elections 2021: Conservative leader Douglas Ross fails his dance audition and the acid test over Boris Johnson – Kirsty Strickland

Over the past week, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has tweaked his election strategy.

That’s not unusual at this stage of a campaign, especially with leaders that are previously untested in the arena.

Party leaders have usually got very clever people around them whose job it is to gauge what is “cutting through” with voters and what is turning people off.

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These very clever people tend to spend too much time in each other’s company so sometimes their helpful directions can lead to a misfire.

Case in point: former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s reluctant transformation from a sober – if, slightly crabbit – public figure into a grinning robo-politician that nobody had asked for.

The week started with a video of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar dancing with a group of women at an outdoor fitness class. It went viral for all the right reasons, helped by the fact that he has some good moves.

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If we weren’t in an election campaign he wouldn’t be shaking his hips in the street, but the clip wasn’t too polished to have lost all its warmth. The reaction to the video would have greatly pleased Anas Sarwar’s clever people.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, pictured at Henderson Park in Coldstream on the Scotland-England border, (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

So it came as no surprise when Douglas Ross’s clever people persuaded him to try a similar tactic in an obvious departure from his comfort zone.

In a video that would have made even the most loyal Conservative voter feel slightly queasy, Mr Ross spoke the words to Atomic Kitten’s Noughties classic Whole Again while stiffly showing off a dance that he proudly admitted to choreographing himself.

In this, he failed what I like to call the Karaoke Commitment Test. For those of us that are mediocre in all things musical, it is the effort and enthusiasm you put in that makes or breaks the performance. If you sing with even a suggestion of apology in your voice, you’ll lose the crowd. Douglas Ross lost the crowd.

There was no audience for Channel 4’s Scottish election debate this week but if there had been, Mr Ross would have probably lost them too.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar showed he could dance, which may have prompted Douglas Ross to attempt to follow suit (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

It appeared as though he had been coached beforehand to use his outdoor voice indoors.

He certainly made himself heard. At certain points during the debate, you could hear little else. He shrieked and shouted through the longest 45 minutes of the campaign so far but it didn’t have the desired effect. There is a huge difference between being the loudest person on the stage and the most impressive person on the stage. Douglas Ross was lost to the chasm between the two.

In a week where the Tory sleaze scandal dominated the news agenda, he must have had splinters from all the fence-sitting he was doing.

Where was the finger-jabbing, ministerial code-loving, defender of truth that we saw when he was prematurely demanding Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation only a few months ago?

The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into how the Downing St flat renovations were initially funded, stating that there was “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have been committed”.

The Prime Minister has denied allegations that he said he’d “rather see the bodies pile up” than agree to another lockdown. He also denied that there is any impropriety in what has been dubbed “Cash For Curtains”.

He denied that he has broken any rules whatsoever. He even went so far as to utter that oh-so-believable phrase: ‘’There isn’t anything to see here.’’

Call me cynical, but I find the Prime Minister’s protestations even less convincing than when my seven-year-old says she has no idea whose tiny hand made the tiny sticky handprint on the wall.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Boris Johnson launched into a furious rant against Labour leader Keir Starmer for the terrible crime of asking the Prime Minister a question during a session designed for questioning the Prime Minister.

Red-faced and spittle-flecked, angry Boris showed his true colours.

It should worry Douglas Ross enormously that with less than a week to go until voters go to the polls, his party leader has chosen to conduct himself with all the decorum of an over-tired toddler.

One of the charges levelled against the Scottish Tories is that they are little more than a branch office of the UK party. Ruth Davidson had some limited success in carving out her own brand as party leader – one that wasn’t quite so toxic to Scottish voters as the offering down south.

Douglas Ross – who deserved credit for his principled resignation over the Dominic Cummings’ Durham road-trip fiasco – seems unwilling or unable to speak up now.

He has been measured to the point of farce when questioned about the Tory sleaze scandal in recent days.

Compare and contrast how he behaved during the Holyrood committee inquiry to now, when it is his boss that’s in the firing line.

“I think it’s right that there are inquiries and investigations at the moment,” he said this week. “We have to look at the questions they are raising, the answers that are given, and the reports that come out.”

When asked about the grotesque “pile of bodies” comment allegedly made by the Prime Minister, Mr Ross said comments like that were “indefensible” but added that he was willing to take Boris Johnson at his word. “The Prime Minister has said, the spokesperson has said, that those comments were not made by the Prime Minister. If they were made by anyone, it would be completely unacceptable.”

It is the easiest thing in the world to demand integrity and transparency from your political opponents. The real test of leadership is whether you act consistently when it’s your team that is under scrutiny.

If Douglas Ross fails that test so close to the Holyrood election, then he can’t complain if voters judge him accordingly.

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