Douglas Ross - 'I can emulate Alex Salmond and win in 2026'

Douglas Ross has said he believes he can lead the Scottish Conservatives to victory in 2026 and defy critics in the same way Alex Salmond managed to do in 2007 with the SNP

Speaking to journalists after his keynote conference speech in which he battled through a sore throat and a broken autocue, the Scottish Conservative leader doubled down on his claims that he will win in 2026.

Recent polling results see his party in third place behind Labour and a further 24 points behind the SNP, but Mr Ross rejected the suggestion that saying he could win was “delusional”.

The Moray MP raised the image of Alex Salmond winning against most predictions in 2007 as an example which his party would be aiming to emulate.

Scottish Conservative Party Leader Douglas Ross spoke to journalists after his conference speech.

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He said: "We're four years out from a Scottish Parliament election and I doubt anyone genuinely believed in 2004 that Alex Salmond was going to become First Minister and the SNP would lead an administration three years hence.

"A lot can change over that time and this doesn’t just happen overnight. There is a staleness and stagnation in the SNP, what new ideas have they come up with?

"That’s not what I want for Scotland and that’s why I think we have to be far more concentrated on what we can do, yes in the medium term, but years down the line and that’s what we are starting off at our conference today.”

Mr Ross – whose party have used the ‘real alternative’ slogan’ – rejected suggestions the independence debate would have to be settled by a referendum before the country could move on.

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He also rejected criticism from Labour that his party had a vested interest in the constitutional argument continuing due to their core vote emanating from the ‘No to Indyref2’ campaigning.

He said: “I’m not going to stay silent on the issue that the nationalists keep bringing to the fore, this is a concern.

"While the Labour Party may want to sit in the middle, sit on the fence and hope that debate goes away, it’s not going away.

"We’ve got to stand up and be a voice for the people of Scotland who do not want another independence referendum, for the people who think it would be an absolutely reckless act to continue to agitate for a referendum next year during this global crisis.”

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Reports from London suggest staff in Downing Street have been told to brace themselves for an election within the next year.

However, the Scottish Conservative leader said he would not bet on an election prior to May 2024.

Mr Ross said this was due to changes to electoral boundaries and also the desire to go into an election having “delivered as much as possible”.

He also refused to back his chief whip, Stephen Kerr, who told The Scotsman that an SNP majority in Holyrood would be the trigger point for a referendum.

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Mr Ross said that "now is not the time” for a referendum was “not in anyone’s priority”, while the SNP/Green plans for a vote are “reckless, naive, dangerous”

He added: "I never look at hypotheticals in future elections other than saying I don’t want the SNP to get a majority at the next election.

"They’ve been in power for a decade and a half, come the next election they’ll be almost 20 years that the SNP have been in power and their plan is to split the country up, divide us all over again, whereas I want to get rid of that argument.”

Asked who he thought he would face in 2026, Mr Ross said he hoped it was not Nicola Sturgeon due to the bet between the two made at the start of this parliament.

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He said: “I think everything about Nicola Sturgeon shows she’s rattled, she doesn’t seem to be enjoying the job, she doesn’t seem to give much to her cabinet ministers, she doesn’t seem to delegate a lot.

"I just don’t see any vision from her to change things in Scotland. We’ve seen so many problems but no solutions from the First Minister.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

It's available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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