Douglas Ross to resign as leader of Scottish Conservatives

Douglas RossImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Douglas Ross said it was not feasible for him to continue in three roles - as MSP, MP and party leader

  • Published

Douglas Ross has announced he will resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

He will carry on in the role until after the election and will also resign as an MSP if he is re-elected to Westminster.

It follows a row over Mr Ross standing as a candidate for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East instead of David Duguid, who has been in hospital and was in effect de-selected.

Mr Ross said he originally thought he could continue to serve as an MSP and MP as well as party leader, but said "on reflection, that is not feasible".

He was the only MSP to also serve as an MP in the current Holyrood session before the UK Parliament dissolved.

Mr Duguid, who had held the Banff and Buchan seat since 2017, had already been adopted by local party members and has disputed suggestions that he is "seriously ill".

On Monday, a Scottish Conservative source told BBC News that Mr Ross had come to the realisation that the party's MSPs would not "put up" with him serving as both an MP and an MSP.

They added that the reaction to him announcing plans to stand in place of Mr Duguid was another factor.

The seat has recently been redrawn as Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Ross said colleagues had told him over the weekend they were "uncomfortable" with his decision to stand.

He said he had to make the choice "overnight" and that the party management board had made "difficult decisions" on no longer having Mr Duguid in the running.

Media caption,

Ross: Colleagues uncomfortable with me standing as MP

He said: "I was delighted and honoured to get the support of local members to be their candidate.

"But I also recognise in the three years that I’ve been party leader, MP and MSP have been different circumstances and that’s why I want to give the commitment to the people of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East that if they elect me as their local representative they will be my number one priority and they will have my full focus."

Pressed on whether he had mishandled the situation, Mr Ross said "everything can be done differently with hindsight", adding: "I’m resigning as party leader, I think that’s quite a clear indication that I have taken a decision that I think is right in these circumstances."

Mr Ross also came under pressure at the weekend when the Sunday Mail reported that his own advisers had raised concerns over 28 parliamentary travel claims which may have been combined with his work as a football linesman.

He said the expenses claims were approved by the independent parliamentary body IPSA and he would have "no issue" with the expenses being examined for a second time.

Image source, SNS
Image caption,

Mr Ross pictured as assistant referee during a match between Hearts and Partick Thistle in August last year

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he had enjoyed working with Mr Ross, but respected his decision to step down.

He said: "He’s been a steadfast champion for the union but also he and I have worked together on delivering two freeports for Scotland attracting jobs and investment, standing up to the SNP’s misguided gender recognition reforms and also being unashamedly champions of Scotland’s north sea energy industry – the only party to consistently have done that.

"I think that’s a track record that Douglas can be proud of."

In 2016, Mr Ross became the MSP for Highlands and Islands via the list system.

Following the unexpected resignation of Jackson Carlaw, he quickly became the leader of the Scottish Conservatives in August 2020.

Mr Carlaw said that a "younger and fresher voice" was needed to lead the party into the next Scottish Parliament election.

At the time Mr Ross was seen as a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who spoke to him shortly after he was confirmed as leader - despite opposing Brexit in the EU referendum.

However he was also at times critical of Boris Johnson's leadership.

Before leading the Scottish Conservatives, he had resigned as a Scotland Office minister when the PM's adviser Dominic Cummings refused to quit for making a trip from London to Durham during lockdown.

In January 2022, Mr Ross withdrew his support for Boris Johnson saying his position had become "untenable" over lockdown parties, and he called for a no-confidence vote.

He then reversed that position when the war in Ukraine started, arguing that political upheaval at home would play into the hands of Vladimir Putin.

In a double U-turn, Mr Ross later voted for the motion of no confidence in Mr Johnson's leadership.

When a party leader announces their resignation in the middle of an election campaign, you know something has gone very wrong.

For Douglas Ross, it was replacing the hospitalised David Duguid as his party’s candidate in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East at the general election.

Some were uneasy about the optics of the party leader swooping in when a colleague was ill.

But what had gone down really badly with Conservative MSPs at Holyrood was the plan to continue to try and carry on as both an MP and an MSP.

Douglas Ross had previously promised he wouldn’t do that.

One of his Scottish Tory colleagues told me last week it had been received "like a bucket of cold sick".

So Mr Ross will leave Holyrood if re-elected to Westminster. Some of his colleagues feel that's where his heart has always really been.

Pressure piled up on him over the weekend and may well have intensified with the newspaper story about his expenses.

His decision will impact on the UK-wide campaign too. Rishi Sunak won’t have factored in his Scottish leader calling it a day in the run-up to polling.

The final list of candidates for the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East constituency was published on Friday.

Ian Bailey is standing for the Liberal Democrats, Andy Brown for Labour, Jo Hart for Reform UK, Seamus Logan for the SNP and Douglas Ross for the Conservatives.

Following Mr Ross's announcement, SNP leader John Swinney accused him of taking voters for granted and treating them with "contempt".

He said: "He wants to have it on his terms.

"Well, when you're in politics, you're in it on the terms of the electorate. We all accept that. It's the electorate that decides."

Alba leader Alex Salmond said it was the "first case of a rat deserting a sinking ship while simultaneously trying to clamber aboard a gravy train".

He called on him to resign as a candidate for the Westminster seat, adding that Mr Ross was "totally devoid of honour".

Scottish Labour's deputy leader Jackie Baillie wished Mr Ross luck in the future, reserving her criticism for the Conservative party and UK government.

She said: "Voters know that this rotten Tory government has nothing to offer Scotland – it’s no wonder Douglas Ross has given up on trying to resuscitate the Scottish Tories’ flailing campaign."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said the move was proof the party was in "abject disarray".

“Just like the SNP, the Tories have been in power for too long, breaking rules and taking you for granted," he said.

And Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, told BBC News it has "never been clear" what Mr Ross' focus was between working as an MSP, an MP and a football linesman.

She said: “I think its clear that the Tory party, UK-wide including in Scotland is toast. They’re on their way out so whoever takes on that role for the Scottish Tories, it’s going to be a pretty thankless task.”

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