Analysis

Inside politics: Why Douglas Ross decided he would stand down as Scottish Tory leader

Mr Ross reflected on the situation over the weekend

It quickly became clear to Douglas Ross that his decision had, in the words of one party source, provoked “a fair bit of disgruntlement".

On Thursday, the Scottish Conservative leader announced he would stand in the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat at the general election. "I have decided I need to lead from the front,” he told a hastily arranged press conference.

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At an internal meeting that morning, several MSPs made their unhappiness known. "It was not like they all did it behind closed doors,” a source said. “It was done to his face immediately."

Mr Ross had previously said he would stand down as the MP for Moray to focus on Holyrood. There was a strong feeling that being an MSP, MP and the party leader was no longer sustainable – or desirable.

And then there were the optics. Former Scotland Office minister David Duguid had hoped to contest the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat, but was effectively deselected by the Tories due to ill health. Mr Duguid, who is still in hospital, later insisted he was well enough to stand.

Opposition politicians were quick to accuse Mr Ross of betraying a colleague for his own political advancement. However, party insiders say he was left with little choice. A source said it would have been “very difficult” to find another good candidate at such short notice.

The constituency is expected to be a fierce battle between the SNP and the Tories. It is a new seat, but notional results suggest the latter would have won it with a relatively slim majority of 2,399 in 2019.

The party source accepted Mr Ross "perhaps had not fully considered how [his decision to stand] might be taken, or certainly had not appreciated how strong the response might be".

They said: “Douglas, over the weekend, basically reflected on it and decided this was not going to be feasible. It had obviously become a distraction, and he basically felt that he had to rectify this as soon as possible."

Backtracking on standing was not an option, because nominations closed on Friday. Besides, it is well known that Mr Ross previously enjoyed being the MP for Moray, and the source admitted he “wasn't relishing the prospect of standing down”.

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Speaking to journalists, Mr Ross said he had “reflected over the weekend on what colleagues and others have said”. He said was “absolutely committed” to winning the seat. In truth, he has gambled his political future on it.

If he fails to win Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, will Mr Ross definitely stay on as an MSP? Perhaps, but he’s already indicated he’s less than 100 per cent committed to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Ross said announcing his intention to quit as leader in the middle of an election campaign was not how he would have “envisaged it”. His colleagues might very well say the same. "I'm no political scientist, but it's not good,” one MSP told me with commendable understatement.

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