'This has not gone as I had planned': Douglas Ross under pressure over expenses cover up claims

11 June 2024, 17:20 | Updated: 11 June 2024, 17:25

Douglas Ross answers reporters' questions on his expenses while campaigning in Edinburgh
Douglas Ross answers reporters' questions on his expenses while campaigning in Edinburgh. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has admitted to LBC that the General Election campaign has not gone to plan, as scrutiny mounts over his decision to quit amid allegations of a Westminster expenses cover up.

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He said the last few days had not been "good enough" and said he was "sorry" for the impact of his actions on Scottish Conservative voters.

He also refused to say he believed his party and Rishi Sunak will win on July 4.

Ross also said he was "comfortable" with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority reviewing his expenses after it was alleged he claimed for travel in his role as football linesman. Reports in the Sunday Mail claimed Ross’ advisers flagged concerns over 28 parliamentary travel claims that may have been combined with his football work.

He admitted the last few days had been "very challenging" for his party but reiterated that his decision to stand down as party leader after the election - and as an MSP if he's re-elected to Westminster - was as a result of listening to concerns from fellow Tory MSPs and not because of scrutiny of his expenses.

The embattled Scottish Tory chief announced on Monday he would step down from the leadership role in Holyrood following a row over his decision to contest the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat at the General Election. He had previously pledged not to run for Westminster again, saying he'd concentrate on Holyrood.

There was huge anger among Scottish Conservatives when he announced last week he would stand - as the party's management board had effectively de-selected former Scotland Office minister David Duguid who is currently recuperating from illness in hospital. Duguid has said he wants to stand for election.

Ahead of a visit to the King's Theatre in Edinburgh, which is undergoing a refurbishment project, Ross admitted to LBC: "This has not gone as I had planned, I have listened and reflected on what colleagues have said and I have responded accordingly."

He added: "It's been a very challenging few days and I'm not trying to ignore that or run away from that."

Ross said some in the MSP group had raised "legitimate concerns" about him potentially being an MP and MSP at the same time and the decision was not "universally popular".

A new leader will take the Scottish Conservatives into the 2026 Holyrood election, he said, adding: "They will be based in Holyrood to deliver what I hope will be another very good result for the Scottish Conservatives, following what I hope will be a good result in 2024."

Asked if he would apologise to Scottish Tory voters for the events of the last few days, he said: "Yeah, I'm sorry this has not been good enough. It's not how I planned the campaign.

"I didn't expect to be announcing that I would be standing down during the middle of the campaign. But I had to take a decision reflecting on what colleagues and others have said.

"The easiest thing to do would have been to hide away and do nothing, but I thought it was right to respond to those comments, to react in the way I have."

Asked if he had spoken to David Duguid about the selection row he said: “I have messaged David Duguid and I was very grateful to get a message back from him.

“I offered to speak to him. He said at the moment he would prefer to text.”

Ross also repeated he is content with IPSA reassessing whether there was any wrongdoing in his Westminster expense claims.

The SNP wrote to IPSA asking them to investigate Ross urgently and the party's deputy leader Keith Brown said: "If these allegations were fully substantiated, it would mean that Mr Ross has been abusing his public-funded Westminster expenses to unfairly fund his receipt of another, separate salary.

"It would amount to another Westminster expenses scandal carried out by the current leader of the Scottish Tory Party.

"Given the seriousness of this matter, it is in the public interest for these allegations to be investigated immediately."

Today asked if he is an expenses cheat, Douglas Ross said: “No, I am not. I am very comfortable that the expenses I have claimed have been made in my duties as a Member of Parliament. I think it's right if IPSA wants to scrutinise them, that they do so."

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