Jackson Carlaw resignation leaves Scots Tories in turmoil

The Scottish Conservatives were thrown into turmoil last night when leader Jackson Carlaw unexpectedly quit just ten months before the next Holyrood elections.
Jackson Carlaw  following his appintment at Scots Tory leader in FebruaryJackson Carlaw  following his appintment at Scots Tory leader in February
Jackson Carlaw following his appintment at Scots Tory leader in February

His resignation came hours after he clashed with Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament over the government’s improper use of Covid statistics and the decision by the SNP to sell face masks.

In the robust question and answer session, he gave no indication that he was set to dramatically quit the position to which he was only elected in February replacing Ruth Davidson as Scottish Tory leader.

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Read more: Jackson Carlaw’s full statement as he steps down as Scots Tory leader
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While some party sources admitted they were “blind-sided” by the announcement, others pointed to poor opinion polls and suggestions activists were allegedly eyeing George Galloway’s new Alliance for Unity party as a “better bet” to lead the fight for the union against the SNP at next year’s elections.

There was also speculation that Tory party internal polling had indicated Mr Carlaw was not cutting through with voters, underlined by his not being prominent in recent visits to Scotland by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove to “boost the union” by highlighting the money spent in Scotland during the coronavirus pandemic by the UK Treasury.

Tory sources also said MSPs had been “deeply unhappy” about his performance during the Covid pandemic, and opinion polls showing a likely SNP win next year had increased their “jitters”.

In his letter of resignation Mr Carlaw said he had reached the “simple if painful conclusion” that he was the wrong person for the job to defend the unionist position in the run-up to next year’s elections.

His decision to go also sparked rumours of a return to Holyrood by Douglas Ross, the Moray MP who quit as a government minister in May after the Dominic Cummings breach of lockdown rules. The Scotsman understands he could be placed top of his party’s regional list in the Highland and Islands to secure a place in the Scottish Parliament. Until then, it is believed that Ruth Davidson would take over at FMQs again - despite the party having two deputies, MSPs Annie Wells and Liam Kerr.

A party insider said: “There was unhappiness within the group about the direction of the last few months, which was a bit unfair, and he also had to follow on from Ruth, which is a bit like taking over from Alex Ferguson - it was never going to be easy. The polls haven’t helped and Jackson is a genuine party man so he will have felt the burden of leadership heavily, and obviously decided he wasn’t the right person to lead in the battle ahead.”

Another added: “There’s an election imminent and the polling is terrible and our members and activists are looking at George Galloway with whole new eyes... Labour can limp along with Richard Leonard but we’re not going to be in the same position.”

But another party source said: “This has blind-sided a lot of party folk usually in the know about these things. It’s not comparable to Ruth going as people knew that was happening - this has come from nowhere.”

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Mr Carlaw said his decision to go now gave the party time to elect a new leader before the Holyrood elections. He wrote: “Over the summer I have had the chance to think hard about my role as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument. I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.

“In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion - that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections. Given the importance I attach to the job, I’ve therefore decided to stand down with immediate effect.”

He added: “It is not an easy call but I have spent a lifetime in politics holding to the maxim that party and country comes first. I believe I am doing my duty by holding to that view now.

“I simply believe that a new leader will be able, as we recover from the Covid emergency, to make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the Union better than me. That is all that matters.

“I leave the job with genuine pride at my time in office, both as interim leader and as leader for the last year. I especially enjoyed the eight years as deputy leader and being an integral part of the success achieved.

“Managing the transition from Ruth Davidson’s leadership to a refreshed party has been a challenging task but I feel confident that I leave the role with the party in good heart and, crucially, with time to elect a new leader so he or she can prepare for the elections next year.

“The Scottish Conservatives will fight those elections as we have always done - as the one party that will unequivocally speak up for all those Scots who do not want to go back to more division, but instead want our country to move on, as part of the United Kingdom, able to rise to the challenges of the future.

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“I will fight that cause hard for these next few vital months as a loyal member of my party.”

His resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said Mr Carlaw had been a “tremendous servant” to the Scottish Conservatives and had “given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.”

He added: “It is a mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time and I offer my best wishes to him, Wynne and the family.”

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