DAVID Davidson stood down as the Tories’ Scottish health spokesman yesterday in the wake of allegations about binge drinking and an affair with an SNP MSP.
Mr Davidson, 62, said he was resigning for the sake of his health, his family and the party, blaming media "allegations and insinuations" for his departure. He will, however, remain an MSP.
His resignation was accepted by David McLetchie, the Tory leader, who promoted Nanette Milne, a retired GP and MSP for the North-east of Scotland, to the post of health spokeswoman.
Mr Davidson’s political career had been in serious trouble since Sunday morning when pictures of him were spread over three pages of the News of the World.
The newspaper claimed he had been on a "five-hour binge-drinking bender" last week before slipping on the cobbles of the Royal Mile and breaking his leg. It also alleged that Mr Davidson, who is married with five children, had spent three nights last week with the SNP MSP Christine Grahame.
Mr Davidson denied having an affair with Ms Grahame, insisting that they had slept in separate beds, but he failed to explain his behaviour after a Tory reception last week where he was reported to have been drinking for several hours.
It is understood the Tory leadership felt Mr Davidson had become a liability in his role as health spokesman, particularly as he had spoken out in the Scottish Parliament in the past about the dangers of binge drinking.
Senior figures in the party came to the view that he would not be able to front any Conservative campaigns on alcohol misuse in the future and his continued presence in the job would give the Tories’ opponents valuable ammunition at election time.
It is understood Mr Davidson discussed the issue with Mr McLetchie and other senior Tories yesterday morning and then offered his resignation. This was quickly accepted by Mr McLetchie.
His departure, although hardly unexpected given the publicity his private life has received over the past few days, is a major embarrassment for the Scottish Tories.
Party managers maintained in public yesterday that they considered the matter "settled", but they know such a public fall from grace will reverberate for some time.
One early example of their continued problems came yesterday when Jack McConnell made an unguarded comment about under-age drinking, suggesting it was all right to "get drunk once in a while".
This would normally be just the sort of remark by the First Minister that the Tories’ would attack with vigour.
However, a Tory spokesman said yesterday that the party would not be making any comment about Mr McConnell’s views on drinking, aware that it would hardly be appropriate for the Tories to try to take the moral high ground on that issue at the moment.
Mr Davidson referred in his resignation letter to his broken leg and to his doctor’s advice that he might be incapacitated for several weeks.
But he also admitted that the News of the World allegations had made it impossible for him to continue in his job.
He stated: "The events of the last 48 hours, not least the allegations and insinuations in the newspapers, have led me to the decision that it is in the best interests of my family, my health and of the party that I take this action."
In a short reply accepting his resignation, Mr McLetchie said he understood Mr Davidson’s reasons for standing down and thanked him for his work as the party’s health spokesman.
Mr Davidson was not to be seen around the Scottish Parliament yesterday, and he may prefer to leave it for several days, or even weeks, before returning to Holyrood.
But there will be a crucial vote in the parliament tomorrow on the Serious and Organised Crime Bill, which the Tories are hoping to win.
The party will need every vote it can get to be in with a chance of winning, so Mr Davidson will be under intense pressure from the leadership to make sure he is in parliament on time to vote, regardless of his injuries.
Ms Grahame was in Holyrood yesterday, but she has maintained a steadfast silence on the issue so far, insisting that she would not comment on anybody’s private life.
Dr Milne was the natural choice to replace Mr Davidson. She has been the Conservatives’ deputy health spokeswoman since being elected to the parliament in 2003 and brings professional knowledge to the brief.
She worked in Aberdeen as a GP and as a registrar for several years before entering politics and is one of the few qualified doctors at Holyrood.