John Swinney ‘disgusted and horrified’ by Douglas Ross’s decision to stand over deselected Tory David Duguid

The First Minister attacked Mr Ross after he replaced a candidate deemed not well enough to stand by the Scottish Conservatives

John Swinney has attacked a decision by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross to run in the general election in the place of a candidate deemed not well enough to stand by the party, saying he is “disgusted by it”.

Mr Ross is part of the Scottish Tory management board, which ruled former UK government minister David Duguid is not medically well enough to stand for the party in the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat.

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But Mr Duguid, who was taken into hospital in April, insisted in a post on social media that claims he is “unable to stand” due to ill health are “simply incorrect”. Instead, he said it was the party management board “that decided not to allow me to be the candidate, although none of them had visited me”.

First Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA WireFirst Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire
First Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire

Mr Duguid wrote: “They apparently took this decision based on two visits from the party director and without receiving any professional medical prognosis.”

The former MP, who will not be eligible for a redundancy payment from Parliament, said he was “very saddened by the way this whole episode has unfolded”.

Rival parties claimed Mr Ross had “betrayed” a colleague by putting himself forward to stand in the seat – a decision that came after he previously said he would quit Westminster to focus on Holyrood and his post as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Mr Swinney was asked about the move by The Scotsman during an SNP campaign event in Springburn on Friday. He said: “My first reaction was I genuinely was disgusted by what I witnessed, and I just cannot fathom how the Conservative Party – I assume it’s the Conservative Party, but it could just be the absolute naked self-interest of Douglas Ross, I’m not sure that there’s any difference between the two things there – but what has happened there is the most despicable way to treat somebody who’s facing illness.

First Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA WireFirst Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire
First Minister John Swinney delivers a speech in Glasgow, while on the general election campaign trail. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire

"David Duguid is a well-respected Member of Parliament. My Westminster colleagues have very good relationships with him, and he is a good man, and he’s facing health difficulties.”

The First Minister added: “For Douglas Ross to essentially require the removal of David Duguid, who was perfectly prepared to stand for election, and his local association wanted him to do so, just to create a new pathway for Douglas Ross to have a new opportunity is a new low for even Douglas Ross. I am disgusted by it, horrified by it. I think it’s no way to treat another human being.”

He said the SNP’s chances of winning the seat are now “a great deal better” because of Mr Ross’s “shoddy behaviour”.

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Mr Ross said the “very unique circumstances” and timings meant the party had just over 24 hours to get another candidate in place, so he decided to put himself forward.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday that boundary changes meant a part of the seat includes his former Moray constituency, which he has represented in the UK Parliament since 2017.

Mr Ross said: “I want to lead from the front, this is a really important seat. It’s one of the many key seats across Scotland where it is a straight choice between the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP.”

He said Mr Duguid had been an “absolute champion” for the area and the Conservative party management board had had a “difficult decision” to make.

Mr Ross said: “The party management board had to look at the situation right now, the situation with David’s health, his recovery, that was at the heart of the decision the management board took. It was a very difficult decision, and I understand how difficult it has been for David, for his family, for his staff. I have been in touch with his office.”

Asked if he has spoken to Mr Duguid since he put himself forward for the seat, Mr Ross said he had “reached out” to him, adding that “he will maybe speak when he is able to and he feels able to speak”.

Pressed on whether he had messaged Mr Duguid or tried to speak to him, Mr Ross added: “We have done both, but given he is in hospital it is not straightforward. I have been in conversation with David’s office and such like, relaying as much support as we can.”

Mr Swinney has meanwhile branded the Prime Minister’s decision to leave the D-Day commemorations in Normandy early a “breathtakingly terrible decision”.

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Rishi Sunak attended the early part of the event in France on Thursday, but returned to the UK ahead of a gathering of world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, on Omaha Beach.

Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron remained in France, along with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Mr Sunak apologised on Friday morning, but the attacks from his political opposition continued.

Mr Swinney said the Prime Minister made a “foolish decision to turn his back on the D-Day commemorations”.

“I think it’s a truly, breathtakingly terrible decision on a number of counts,” he said. “One, it was disrespectful to the veterans for the Prime Minister to leave as he did.

“Secondly, there was a major gathering of international leaders at which the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany, the president of France, the president of Ukraine, a variety of international leaders were present where I would have thought the Prime Minister would have wanted to be seen.”

Mr Sunak, he said, still remains the Prime Minister despite the ongoing general election campaign and he should have remained to “represent the international interests of the United Kingdom”.

In a speech, Mr Swinney said he had not engaged with the election campaign in the preceding 48 hours to focus on his duties as First Minister in commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The decision, he continued, “tells us all we need to know” about the judgment of the Prime Minister.

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In his apology on Friday, Mr Sunak said: “The 80th anniversary of D-Day has been a profound moment to honour the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our values, our freedom and our democracy. This anniversary should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics.

“I care deeply about veterans and have been honoured to represent the UK at a number of events in Portsmouth and France over the past two days and to meet those who fought so bravely. After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK. On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer – and I apologise.”

Speaking to broadcasters later on Friday, the Prime Minister reiterated his apology, but pushed for the issue not to be politicised.

“I think it’s important though, given the enormity of the sacrifice made, that we don’t politicise this,” he said. “The focus should rightly be on the veterans who gave so much. I had the honour and privilege of speaking to many of them and their families, hearing their stories, expressing my gratitude personally to them.

“But I’m someone who will always admit when I’ve made a mistake and that’s what you’ll always get from me.”

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