Scots Tory leader bombshell decision to quit role in middle of election campaign

10 June 2024, 16:35

Rishi Sunak and Douglas Ross on the first day of the election campaign at the Port of Nigg.
Rishi Sunak and Douglas Ross on the first day of the election campaign at the Port of Nigg. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Election campaigning for the Scottish Conservatives was thrown into turmoil today as party leader Douglas Ross made a bombshell announcement that he would stand down from his position after July 4 - and that if he is elected to Westminster he will also quit as an MSP in Holyrood.

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Mr Ross said it was "not feasible" for him to continue be an MSP and party leader while also being an MP should he be elected to the new Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat.

The decision comes despite Mr Ross having held all three jobs - MP for Moray, MSP for the Highlands and Islands and party leader - since 2020.

Today he told LBC that he had listened to criticism about having too many roles, and had decided to concentrate on one.

But his decision also comes after he received huge criticism from within his party after making the shock move to stand in the election after previously announcing he no longer wanted a seat in Westminster and would focus on Holyrood and the 2026 Scottish Parliament elections.

There was also anger about the way the party had effectively de-selected the previous candidate for the seat, former Scotland Office minister David Duguid, who is currently ill in hospital. Mr Duguid had said that he wanted to stand for election despite his illness as he was in recovery.

And at the weekend there were allegations in the Sunday Mail newspaper, that Mr Ross had improperly used his Westminster expenses to claim for travel when he was working as an UEFA linesman - an allegation he strongly denies.

In a statement Douglas Ross said: "Should I be given the honour to represent the people and communities of this new seat, they should know being their MP would receive my complete focus and attention.

"I will, therefore, stand down as leader following the election on July 4, once a successor is elected.

"Should I win the seat, I will also stand down as an MSP to make way for another Scottish Conservative representative in Holyrood."

He insisted: "My party has a chance to beat the SNP in key seats up and down Scotland, including in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East. We must now come together and fully focus on doing exactly that."

When he spoke to LBC he rejected the idea that the expenses allegations coupled with anger about the treatment of Duguid, had forced him to quit as party leader.

"On expenses I'm very clear I've only ever claimed for issues affecting my role as a member of Parliament and my travel to and from Westminster, it's approved and accepted by IPSA, the independent body, and if they want to scrutinise it again I'm very comfortable for them to do that," he said.

"On David Duguid it's a very difficult set of circumstances and the party management board reluctantly reached the decision he could no longer be candidate, and I decided to put myself forward for the vacancy as the neighbouring MP until parliament's dissolution and a chunk of my former constituency now makes up part of the new seat.

"And on criticism about the number of roles I had, yes I listened to that and I reflected. I think too often some politicians don't listen, they don't accept criticism of them or their policies, but I did and I wanted to give a commitment to the constituents of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East that if they elect me they will be my number one priority and have my full focus to deliver for that party of Scotland."

He added: "There were comments throughout the weekend [about that] which I thought were distracting from the national campaign to beat the SNP, so if it's an accusation that I've listened to criticism and responded then I'll accept that accusation."

When LBC put to him he had been holding the roles of MP, MSP and party leader for some time, he said "circumstances are now different" and it was "right that the leader going into the 2026 elections should be someone based in Holyrood."

He said he would have no involvement in who his successor may be but they would have his "full support".

Responding to the news Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told LBC: "Douglas Ross is the first senior Tory to fall as a result of this election campaign but I hope he's not the last and, on July 4, if people vote Scottish Labour here in Scotland and they vote Labour across the UK then we can see every senior Tory fall across the country.

"So that this incompetent, failing, lying, sleazy, right-wing Government can be booted out of office after 14 years of carnage and chaos that has negatively impacted on Scotland and negatively impacted on communities across the country."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton claimed Mr Ross' decision was "yet more proof of a Conservative party in abject disarray", and he added: "Just like the SNP, the Tories have been in power for too long, breaking rules and taking you for granted. They aren't focussed on what really matters like fast access to your GP, seeing an NHS dentist, tackling sewage dumping and lifting up Scottish education."

Seamus Logan, the SNP candidate for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, challenged Mr Ross to immediately quit: "Douglas Ross must resign as an MSP today. It's clear he's been forced out as Scottish Tory leader after his shameful behaviour over David Duguid and his growing expenses scandal. Voters deserve a dedicated MSP - not one who is hedging his bets in case he loses the election."

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie branded Mr Ross as "perhaps the worst leader in the Scottish Tories' history".

He said: "At times like these it is customary to say something conciliatory about a departing MSP, but Douglas Ross has been perhaps the worst leader in the Scottish Tories' history and the Scottish Parliament and indeed, Scottish politics, will be well rid of him.

"He embodies everything that is wrong with the Tory party in his anti-environment, anti-equality, anti-democratic pursuit of self interest, epitomised by his ill-judged swoop for David Duguid's Westminster seat even while he recovers from serious illness.

"The fact he only now accepts that he must resign his seat as an MSP if he is returned to the House of Commons shows the utter contempt with which he holds his constituents and the Scottish Parliament."

However Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted Douglas Ross had a record to be to be proud of, and said they had worked together on issues such as "standing up to the SNP's misguided gender recognition reforms" and promoting the North Sea energy sector.

He added: "I think that's a track record that Douglas can be proud of and I've enjoyed working with him, but I respect his decision."

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