Douglas Ross to end Scottish Tories leadership after angering backbenchers over Westminster election bid

Douglas Ross will leave his role as leader of the Scottish Tories after admitting it was “not feasible” to continue.

The Scottish Tories have been thrown into crisis just three weeks out from the general election, with Douglas Ross announcing he will quit as party leader after angering his backbenchers by controversially putting himself forward for a key Westminster seat.

Mr Ross confirmed he would stand down following the July 4 election, after backbenchers branded his handling of former Tory minister David Duguid being de-selected and replaced by Mr Ross as a “lose-lose” situation for the party.

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Douglas Ross's decision to quit abandon the Scottish Tory ship had become inevit...
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Conservative backbenchers have told The Scotsman that whoever replaces Mr Ross must “talk up the positive benefits” of the Union, warning the outgoing leader’s “one dimensional” strategy to oppose an independence referendum “has had its day”.

Mr Duguid, who is receiving hospital treatment for a spinal injury, was told by the Scottish Conservatives’ management board that he was not well enough to take his place on the ballot for the new Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat. Hours later, despite previously insisting he was to quit Westminster to give Holyrood his full attention, Mr Ross confirmed he was putting himself forward for the seat.

Mr Ross was also facing questions over claims he used Westminster expenses to travel for his job as a football assistant referee.

In a statement released on Monday morning, Mr Ross confirmed he would quit as party leader and if he wins a route back to Westminster, will leave Holyrood altogether.

Douglas Ross. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesDouglas Ross. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Douglas Ross. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

He said: “I have served as MP, MSP and leader for over three years now and believed I could continue to do so if re-elected to Westminster, but on reflection, that is not feasible.

“I am committed to fighting and winning the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East constituency. Should I be given the honour to represent the people and communities of this new seat, they should know being their MP would receive my complete focus and attention.”

Mr Ross added: “I will therefore stand down as leader following the election on July 4, once a successor is elected. Should I win the seat, I will also stand down as an MSP to make way for another Scottish Conservative representative in Holyrood.”

Speaking to Sky News later, Mr Ross denied the decision was to do with his own political ambitions.

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He said: “No, I don’t think anyone looking at me announcing today that I’m standing down as leader would necessarily come to that conclusion. What I am doing today is taking a decision, reflecting on comments made by colleagues and others, to focus on fully the people of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.”

But backbench Tory MSPs have told The Scotsman about a frustration over how the situation involving Mr Duguid was handled by Mr Ross. It appears unlikely that candidates to replace Mr Ross will come forward in a significant way until the election campaign has concluded.

However, shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay and deputy leader Meghan Gallacher are expected to be contenders for the soon-to-be vacant post.

One Conservative MSP said: “It was inevitable, but perhaps not great timing given where we are in the campaign. I don’t think any member will thank anyone if they use the next three weeks to promote themselves. I’ll be taking soundings and decide after we’ve tried to save our MPs and get hard-working candidates over the line on July 4.”

Another Tory MSP warned Mr Ross’s aggressive strategy to oppose a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum had run its course.

They said: “I think the feeling is it shouldn’t have come to this. Things were going well last week and the Duguid episode didn’t need to occur. From that point, it was a lose-lose.

“Whoever is the next leader, they must talk up the positive benefits of the Union. The one dimensional ‘no to Indyref2’ has had its day.”

The MSP said there had been “a lot of frustration from candidates and members” about running the campaign opposing a referendum again. They added: “We have so much more to offer.”

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Rishi Sunak said Mr Ross had “a track record” he “can be proud of”, adding that he had “enjoyed working with him”. But the Prime Minister said he would “respect his decision”.

Opponents jumped on Mr Ross’s resignation. First Minister John Swinney accused Mr Ross of treating voters with contempt, adding: “That is a level of taking the electorate for granted which is totally unacceptable.”

The SNP’s Seamus Logan, who is standing against Mr Ross in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, claimed “it’s clear he’s [Ross[ been forced out as Scottish Tory leader after his shameful behaviour over David Duguid and his growing expenses scandal”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Mr Ross was “the first senior Tory to fall as a result of this election campaign, but I hope he’s not the last”.

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