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Media captionDouglas Ross says he is not afraid to “stand up” to Boris Johnson

The new Scottish Conservative leader has insisted he will not be afraid to criticise Boris Johnson if he believes the prime minister is not acting in Scotland’s best interests.

Douglas Ross quit as a Scotland Office minister in May over Dominic Cummings’ trip to County Durham during lockdown.

Mr Ross said he did not believe his resignation would damage his relationship with Downing Street.

But he said the Scottish Tories were “distinct” from the UK party.

And he added: “If the prime minister has got it wrong, I will tell him”.

Mr Ross was speaking to BBC Scotland in the second of a series of wide-ranging interviews with Scottish party leaders.

The SNP have accused the Moray MP of being “Boris Johnson’s man in Scotland” since he was appointed party leader earlier this month following the sudden resignation of Jackson Carlaw.

Mr Ross said the prime minister had phoned to congratulate him on winning the leadership “within minutes”.

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Mr Ross, pictured here with his family, was the only candidate to replace Jackson Carlaw as leader

But he said that his position as Scottish Conservative leader did not mean he had a duty to defend the UK government’s actions.

Mr Ross, who backed Boris Johnson’s campaign to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, said: “I will back the prime minister where I think it is right for Scotland.

“But if I think he has got something wrong, or where I think the government has got something wrong, I’ll stand up and say that.

“I’ve shown people across Scotland that if I think the prime minister has got it wrong, I’ll tell him”.

Mr Ross would not be drawn on whether he believes Mr Johnson is a help or a hindrance to his party in Scotland, because “Mr Johnson is not standing for election to the Scottish Parliament next year”.

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Mr Cummings refused to resign as the PM’s aide despite driving to County Durham during lockdown

He added: “The Scottish Conservatives are a distinct party from the UK party.

“We have different policies, we had different policies at the last election and we will have a range of policies going forward.

“But I am the leader of the Scottish Conservatives and I’m the one that’s taking the fight to the SNP day in, day out and I’ll continue to do that for the next nine months until the election in May next year.”

Mr Ross said he believed there had been “presentational issues” over the UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He added: “No one can deny that Nicola Sturgeon presents her case very well.

“But actually people who think Scotland has had a totally different approach to dealing with this pandemic – that is not the case.

“It has been very similar across the four nations. The chief scientific officers have worked together in the four nations, the medical advisors and the advice to all governments has been the same and the decisions taken have been very similar”.

The next Holyrood election

His predecessor, Jackson Carlaw, had already commissioned a full review of the party’s policies – and had been expected to announce changes including dropping the party’s opposition to free university tuition.

Mr Ross said he would be starting again with an “open book” when it came to policy.

Mr Ross said his aspiration was to “take our party forward with a positive vision for the country and to lead Scotland as first minister”.

He said would be launching a listening exercise to ensure that the party’s manifesto for next May’s Scottish Parliament election would be “reflective of Scotland as a whole”.

This process would include organisations that “do not naturally naturally associate themselves with having conversations with the Scottish Conservatives”.

He added: “Far too often, the SNP speaks to Scotland and tells people in Scotland what they should think, rather than listening to what people do think.”


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Mr Ross said he was not surprised at Nicola Sturgeon’s confirmation that there will an independence referendum pledge in the SNP’s election manifesto as the party’s raison d’etre is to “separate Scotland from the rest of the UK”.

He said: “Putting that front and foremost on her manifesto again shows her priorities are for the separatists rather than securing a positive future for Scotland”.

Mr Ross said the election campaign should instead be about how best to improve education, health and the economy rather than on “opening up the division of the past”.

He agreed that opinion polls currently show a majority in favour of independence, but said the SNP had still not answered any of the big economic questions that caused it to lose the referendum in 2014.

And he claimed that it suited the SNP on focus on constitutional arguments because it focused attention away from the party’s “failures” in government.

He also said he would not speculate on the hypothetical question of what would happen if there was another pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament after the election.

Jackson Carlaw’s resignation

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Mr Carlaw quit as party leader after less than six months in the job

There has been speculation that Mr Carlaw was effectively forced out as leader to make way for Mr Ross – with former party leader Ruth Davidson being spotted visiting Mr Ross’s home days before Mr Carlaw quit.

But Mr Ross again insisted that he had not known in advance that Mr Carlaw was going to step down, and that Ms Davidson had visited him in a “personal capacity” rather than to discuss the leadership.

He added: “It would have been very easy for Jackson just to keep on going, but he thought the party needed a change.

“When that opportunity came up, I knew I had to act quickly because we were nine months out from an important election here in Scotland and the main opposition party suddenly didn’t have a leader”.

Missing VJ Day event to be a football linesman

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Mr Ross apologised at the weekend for missing a VJ Day event in his constituency to officiate at a Scottish Premiership football match.

He said he had been “totally wrong” to do so and had “beaten myself up for days” afterwards, adding that he would “potentially have to give up refereeing” after the Scottish Parliament election.

Mr Ross said: “It is something I’ve done for 20 years, I’m one of only ten international assistant referees in Scotland and I’ve put in a lot of work to get to that level.

“But I understand the criticisms people have of me for doing it.”

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