Tory leader hopeful defends 'grope MP' at campaign launch

A controversial former MP has denied his support for a Scots Tory leadership contender could scupper her chances, as it was revealed a Westminster inquiry into sexual assault allegations against him is expected to published its findings at the end of this month.

Former Aberdeen MP Ross Thomson is backing Michelle Ballantyne to be the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Ross Thomson stepped down as MP for Aberdeen South prior to last month’s general election after he was accused of “groping” a Scottish Labour MP in a Commons bar.

Mr Thomson, who is backing Scots Tory leadership contender Michelle Ballantyne, denied his support and appearance at her campaign launch to replace Ruth Davidson today could prove detrimental.

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Tory MP Ross Thomson quits as election candidate after groping allegations

He said: “I’m supporting her as a private citizen and I’m entitled to support who I want. I genuinely think she’s the right person.” He said he hoped once the report was published, he would be able to “move on”.

The former MP referred himself to the Tories’ internal disciplinary panel after being accused of “sexual touching” in Westminster’s Strangers’ Bar in 2018, claims which he has described as “completely false”. Former Labour MP Paul Sweeney later revealed he had also reported Mr Thomson to the House of Commons authorities after alleged drunken “groping”.

Mr Thomson refused to be drawn on the potential findings in the report, but said the inquiry had left him “in limbo” since standing down as an MP.

However Paul Sweeney said he was unaware that the investigation had concluded and had received no communication from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"As far as I'm concerned the incident is still under live investigation and the Commissioner has still to make a judgement," he said. "I completed my evidence statement just before Christmas. From what I could tell it sounded like other incidents had been reported in the course of the investigation.

"There was a personalised nasty response from the Conservative Party's spokesman about me after the election and the Conservative Party has failed to take his behaviour seriously since the incident came to light.

"It strikes me as quite obnoxious that he hasn't been suspended as a member of their party pending the outcome of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards investigation, given the nature of the allegations."

The issue was raised at the official launch of Michelle Ballantyne's leadership campaign in Edinburgh's Cornerstone Centre this morning, when she was asked why she had not received any support from other Tory parliamentarians, past or present aside from Mr Thomson, unlike her rival candidate Jackson Carlaw.

"I have had a number of conversations and very supportive comments from my MSP colleagues," she said. "To be honest when I came into this two weeks ago I didn't expect any of them to publicly endorse me, Jackson had already spoken to all of them. They didn't know I was even going to be running two weeks ago and had made their commitment and I think it's probably reasonable they're supporting the current leader."

Pressed on Mr Thomson's support she added: "I've known Ross for a long time, I value his opinion and he's always been a friend. I think you should read the report that's coming out on the investigation into the incident first. There's been a full investigation. I work on the truth on what's been proven, not on speculation and spurious commentary."

After the event Mr Thomson said he was backing Michelle Ballantyne because he believed she would be able to help the party "reconnect with ordinary people".

He said: "We need to start offering more than no to indyref2 - we've gone on that the last couple of elections so it's time for more. There are a lot of people in Scotland to whom we've never really given an offer, not given a positive reason to vote for us, and I think Michelle has the ability to reach out and connect with those people because of her own back story."

Ms Ballantyne, who only became an MSP two years ago, has previously worked as a nurse, in health management, managed a third sector organisation supporting people with drug and alcohol problems, and with her husband runs a manufacturing businesses.

"That's the kind of pitch we need," said Mr Thomson. "The aim is to be the next government so we need to widen our appeal to those who have not voted for us."

Both are vocal supporters of Prime Minister - Mr Thomson was chairman of Johnson's campaign to become Tory leader last year. Today he said he believed support for Boris Johnson could also work in her favour:

"A lot of the opposition to Boris Johnson is probably overstated. If he's allowed to be himself and people get to now the charismatic guy that I know, they will be charmed. Michelle already has a good relationship with him and would want to see more of Boris in Scotland."

Ms Ballantyne was asked if she had received any support from Mr Johnson. She said: "The PM is extremely good at managing these kinds of situations and he said quite clearly he would remain neutral because he would want to work effectively with whoever was made leader."

An SNP spokesperson said: "It is seriously unwise to have Ross Thomson so heavily involved in a leadership campaign when an investigation into his behaviour is yet to report.

"This will only compound questions over Ms Ballantyne's political judgement."