Douglas Ross announced his bid to become leader of the Scottish Conservatives following Jackson Carlaw’s shock resignation.
The Moray MP had been a parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland – but resigned from the role over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham during lockdown.
However, his act of defiance has not stopped Mr Ross from emerging as the frontrunner as Mr Carlaw’s replacement. Senior party figures in Scotland are understood to be keen on the MP becoming leader and trying to win a seat as an MSP at the next Scottish parliament election in May.
The former UK government minister said at a “crucial time” in politics, he can unite the party after it lost its second leader in less than a year, also confirming that former party leader Ruth Davidson could now return to frontline politics.
Mr Ross confirmed that if he becomes the party’s next leader, former party leader Ruth Davidson will take on Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions until he wins a seat in the Scottish Parliament.
He said he will contest a seat in the Holyrood election in May if he becomes the party leader.
He has previously served as an MSP, but quit the Scottish Parliament for Westminster after ousting then SNP depute leader Angus Robertson in the 2017 general election.
Mr Ross said: “This is a crucial time in Scottish politics. We are months away from an important election and need strong, decisive leadership of our party to take on and defeat the SNP in seats right across the country.
“My message to voters across Scotland will be this: if you want to build a better Scotland, if you want to beat the SNP, and if you want to put the divisions of the past few years behind us, the party I plan to lead is one you can unite behind, and one that can win.”
Earlier telling Times Radio he would be campaign manager of Mr Ross’s bid to lead the party, fellow Tory MP John Lamont said: “Douglas will be confirming later today that he would like to be a candidate in the contest.
“I think he has not only the skills to unite the Conservative Party in Scotland, but also more importantly the skills to unite the unionists vote within Scotland, which is currently fragmented between a number of different parties.”
The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk also confirmed on Friday that MSP and former party leader Ruth Davidson will return to frontline politics, at least on a temporary basis.
Mr Lamont said Ms Davidson “will be taking on Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament” up until the May election, when senior Scottish Tory figures hope Mr Ross will be able to swap Westminster for Holyrood.
“I was (Ruth’s) campaign manager back in 2011 when she was elected Scottish leader and she has grown from strength to strength since that point and she’s going to be playing a part and Douglas’s team if Douglas is elected,” said Mr Lamont.
“Ruth will be taking on Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament between the point of Douglas’s election until next year’s election to the Scottish Parliament when we hope that Douglas is going to be returned as an MSP.”
The former Scotland Office minister – also a qualified professional football referee – was elected to Westminster in 2017 general election.
Mr Ross quit as parliamentary under-secretary in May over Mr Cummings trip to Durham, saying the No 10 aide’s “interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked”.
After less than six months in the job, Mr Carlaw on Thursday said he made the “painful decision” after realising he is not the best person to lead the party.
Boris Johnson paid tribute to the departing leader north of the border, saying he has been a “tremendous servant to the Scottish Conservative Party for more than four decades”.
Michelle Ballantyne, the Tory MSP for the South Scotland region who stood against Mr Carlaw in the leadership contest, said the party “did make a bad choice” in appointing him as leader – and she suggested he had been removed in a “stitch up”.
But fellow party MSP Adam Tomkins told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme: “Michelle doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
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News – MP who defied Dominic Cummings launches Scottish Tory leadership bid