What do we know about Douglas Ross?
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party leader Jackson Carlaw announced his resignation as leader of the party last Thursday, after a brief five months in the role. This came on the same day that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the Government’s plans regarding the reopening of Scottish schools and further easing of lockdown restrictions.
The statement announcing the resignation was released only a few hours after exchanging verbal blows with the First Minister during her public covid-19 address, during which Carlaw accused the First Minister and the Scottish National Party of “profiteering” from the pandemic by selling branded face masks on their website, leading to her riposte that he was “bound up in electoral politics”.
In his statement, Carlaw said that “a new leader will be able, as we recover from the COVID emergency, to make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the Union better than me. I leave the job with genuine pride at my time in office, both as interim leader and as leader for the last year. I especially enjoyed the eight years as deputy leader and being an integral part of the success achieved.”
Carlaw served as deputy leader of the party from late 2011 during Ruth Davidson’s time as leader, when the Scottish Conservative party successfully campaigned to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom in 2014. The party then went on to win 16 new seats in the Scottish Parliament election of 2016.
Carlaw also served as interim leader of the party after Ruth Davidson’s resignation in August of 2019, and through the December election which, dominated by the SNP, resulted in the Scottish Tories losing more than half of their seats.
The resignation was well-received by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who wished Carlaw well in his future endeavours. Commenting on the resignation, he said: “As an activist, deputy chairman, deputy leader and leader, he has given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.”
“It is a mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time and I offer my best wishes to him, Wynne and the family.”
What’s next for the Scottish Tories?
The day after Carlaw’s resignation, Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, confirmed his candidacy for the leadership contest. Immediately, Ross was endorsed by Ruth Davidson, the former leader, as well as Adam Tomkins, MSP for Glasgow and Professor of Law at Glasgow University. Ross has now claimed the leadership automatically as of Wednesday (August 5th), as no other contenders threw their hat into the ring.
His most senior political role was that of junior minister in the Scotland office, from which he resigned in the aftermath of Dominic Cummings famously breaking lockdown restrictions to travel from London to Durham. However, he insisted that there were no “hard feelings” from the Prime Minister over this resignation, despite no comment so far from Number 10 regarding his candidacy.
This new leader is not without controversies. In the same year as he became MP in 2017, when asked in an interview what he would do if he became Prime Minister for a day, he responded that he “would like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers". Though he later apologised for these comments, they provoked widespread outrage among traveller and human rights groups, including Amnesty International.
His voting record tells a similar story: he has consistently voted against granting EU nationals an automatic right to remain in the UK, and against automatically granting them leave to remain in the country after Brexit. He also voted against the Scottish Parliament having to give its consent for any future Brexit deal.
Moving past constitutional issues, Ross also voted against adding a clause to the Northern Ireland bill which would legalise same sex marriage in the North. This is a far cry from the Scottish Tory party led by a member of the LGBT community that existed only last year.
Unsurprisingly for a Scottish Tory, he has made maintaining the union a priority – during an announcement on Saturday, he said: “Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that’s a relationship I want to maintain and improve. Under my leadership, this will be an absolute priority.”
Douglas Ross rising through the ranks of the party to the leadership shows an interesting shift in the party’s policies, from the relatively progressive, pro-EU party of Ruth Davidson to the right-wing, strongly nationalist cabal of Boris Johnson and his government. Ross has vowed to lead a “Boris backing, Brexit positive, anti nat party” - from this, it can be assumed that Scotland can expect him to continue backing a fiercely British Nationalist government at Westminster, hostile to all mention of a second independence referendum. During his career as an MP, he has already voted against motions that would block a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit, or protect the NHS from being affected by any post-Brexit trade deals.
Before this, the Scottish Conservatives tended to either avoid the topic of Brexit or take a far more moderate pro-Brexit approach in public, with Ruth Davidson even making national headlines backing a remain vote in televised debates. This new, unopposed leader for the Scottish Tories, backed by several big players in Westminster including the PM, is a completely different kettle of fish from his predecessors, and his ascension indicates a big shift from their more progressive, pro-EU past.
Whether this shift will play out well in polls is another question - as Boris Johnson tends to forget, Scotland returned a solid Remain vote in 2016, and according to recent polling in advance of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, the Tories are facing another electoral armageddon.
Image: via WikiCommons