Douglas Ross interview: I’ll shift the focus from the constitution

Newly installed Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross says he is ready to build a new case for the union – but wants to shift the focus on to the SNP’s domestic record which he claims has “let down” many Scots.

Douglas Ross

The 37-year-old insists he is tough enough to cut it in the unforgiving battleground of Scottish politics – and won’t “stoop” to personal attacks after a fiery baptism at the helm of Scotland’s main opposition party last week.

And as the country faces one of the “worst recessions the world has ever seen”, the MP has hit out at the failings of the Scottish Government’s economic response to Covid.

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The Moray MP replaced Jackson Carlaw last week to become the fifth Tory leader of the devolution era just nine months out from the next Holyrood election, which polling suggests will see the SNP rack up a record fourth victory.

The part-time football linesman, who will quit officiating at matches if he becomes First Minister, has already been accused of being Boris Johnson’s “man in Scotland” by opponents, despite resigning as a UK government minister over the breach of lockdown rules by the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings. There are also claims he colluded with former leader Ruth Davidson to oust Carlaw.

But the new leader says he won’t be put off by this and other broadsides likely to follow in the months ahead.

The Nationalists’ official Twitter account even claimed he had “a long history of racist views”, remarks which were withdrawn.

“I think as someone who’s done seven Old Firm derbies, the Riyadh derby in Saudia Arabia, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge,” he joked in an interview with Scotland on Sunday this week.

“I don’t underestimate the job I’ve got ahead of me. I would say, however, the SNP clearly put out some disparaging remarks about me and they removed some elements from social media, but sadly that’s reflective of where Scottish politics is at the moment.

“I want to move beyond that and get beyond the division of the past into a more positive future for Scotland and I think if they want to continue attacking me as an individual, I’m not going to stoop to that. I’m going to hold them to account for their record and provide a positive alternative for the people of Scotland.”

Ross will seek election to the Scottish Parliament in next year’s election on the regional list in the Highlands. Former leader Davidson will step back in to the main opposition role at First Minister Question’s every Thursday when Parliament returns next week.

The Tories are the party of the union in Scotland, but recent polls have shown a clear, albeit slim, majority for independence.

Mr Ross believes a renewed case for the union can be made on the back of the UK-wide response to the Covid pandemic, but wants to move from the constitutional debate.

“That increase in support for separating Scotland from the rest of the UK has happened at the same time that the nationalists have not been focussing on separation and there hasn’t been the scrutiny of their arguments whether it’s on the economy or the future of how we would do business separated from the rest of the UK,” he said.

“I think there is an opportunity for us to look again at the arguments if we have to revisit that constitutional battle around the benefits of Scotland remaining a strong and integral part of the UK.

“However, I would say we need to change the entire narrative and say that’s a decision we took just six years ago and we shouldn’t spend the next nine months or the next Parliament in Holyrood focussing on divisions of the past.

“We should be focussing on the challenges that the country is facing right now, whether it’s in education or the health service, justice and local government or rebuilding the economy and ensuring there are jobs as we come out of the Covid pandemic and what will be one of the worst recessions the world has ever seen.

“I think in many areas Scotland and individuals and businesses have been let down by the Scottish Government and the SNP.”

A jobs paper will be issued within a month by the new leader who will follow Davidson’s drive to broaden the blue collar reach of the Tories north of the Border.

“I think the economy is our next big challenge that we have to face together as a country,” he said.

“So at the same time opposition parties have to provide a positive alternative. The economy and the economic recovery of our country has not got the attention it deserves during this pandemic or from the Scottish government.

“We need to engage with business. At the moment, many that I’ve spoken to in the short time of this campaign and since I’ve become leader feel it’s not a strong pro-business, pro-economy, pro-good jobs for people the length and breadth of the country voice being heard within the Scottish Government and that’s what I would change.”

A review of all “current and previous policies” is now to be undertaken ahead of the party’s manifesto for next year’s Holyrood vote.

“The people of Scotland are electing their Parliament for the next five years in May and I want to ensure we have the best policies to attract people to support the Scottish Conservatives to turn up in Holyrood in good numbers.”

And opposition claims that the new leader is simply the Prime Minister’s “man in Scotland” were dismissed by the new leader.

“That is so ridiculous and typical of the opposition parties,” he added.

“I think I will prove comprehensively that I am my own person, I’ve got my own voice, my own thoughts. I’ll lead a team here in Scotland.

“The Scottish Conservatives are a distinct political party from the UK Conservative party and I’ve shown in the past that I can disagree very publicly with the Prime Minister and I will not hold back if I think something is in the best interests of Scotland.”

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