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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Scottish Conservative Party leader announces surprise resignation

Douglas Ross will continue to lead the party during the campaign and participate in televised debates with other Scottish leaders, despite essentially being a lame-duck figure with questionable support from his own party.

(CN) — The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party issued a surprise resignation statement on Monday following a scandal involving his personal expenses and internal dissent from his leadership.

Douglas Ross, who has been the leader of the Scottish Conservatives since 2020, serves as the leader of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament, overseeing the party during a period in which they have experienced a historically unusual spike in popularity.

More willing than previous leaders to differentiate his party from its English equivalent, Ross gained a national profile after becoming the first Conservative MP to call for Boris Johnson’s resignation in 2022. Johnson, who was deeply unpopular among the Scottish electorate, would be forced out of office by his party months later.

Ross was also instrumental in the fall of Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf in April, having called the no-confidence vote that would lead to the Scottish Nationalist leader’s downfall.

But he has faced criticism for serving in both the Scottish Parliament and the U.K. Parliament. Although not against the rules, the workload involved in both roles — plus the large distance between Edinburgh and London — meant it was widely regarded as impossible for Ross to perform both roles simultaneously whilst also acting as Scottish leader.

In addition, Ross is an assistant referee in top-tier football and has continued to adjudicate high-profile matches alongside his political career. The decision to maintain all three jobs has come under sustained cross-party criticism, and weakened his position as leader.

Ross had promised he would leave his role in the national legislature at the next general election and focus on his job in the Scottish Parliament. However, with the general election now taking place next month, he made the highly controversial decision to reverse his previous pledge and stand again for a Westminster constituency.

Ross’s surprise candidacy for the constituency of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East came at the expense of the incumbent MP, David Duguid. Though Ross claimed that Duguid was standing down due to ill health, Duguid himself denied this.

“It has been reported and repeated that I am “unable to stand”. This is simply incorrect,” Dugiud wrote on social media. “Having been adopted by local members, I was very much looking forward to campaigning. It was not my decision not to stand.”

Dugiud’s exclusion came despite his selection by the local constituency party, and his treatment was reported to have angered Conservative colleagues both at home and in Westminster and weakened Ross’s position significantly.

In addition, Ross had been battling a growing scandal involving his parliamentary expenses following revelations that are rumored to have been leaked by disgruntled Conservative colleagues.

Ross is accused of using Westminster travel expenses — public money intended to help MPs with parliamentary work — to fund journeys to football matches as part of his referee responsibilities. Press reports suggest that Ross’s office had identified 28 journeys he had claimed expenses for, which were related to football rather than parliamentary work.

He denies the accusations around expenses, saying he would “have no problem” with them being investigated. But the scandal has piled public pressure on Ross in recent days and intensified a sense of leadership crisis in the party, with reports suggesting he was ultimately forced out by internal machinations.

In his resignation statement, Ross said that he will stand down from his position in the Scottish Parliament if he is successful in securing election to Westminster. But it is unclear how smooth a process this would be, having alienated the local Westminster constituency party, as well as colleagues in the Scottish Parliament.

The implications of the resignation for the Scottish Conservatives in the middle of a general election campaign are not positive.

Already flagging in the polls, having fallen far behind the resurgent Labour Party since the last election, the leadership vacuum now opening at the party’s helm is unlikely to benefit campaigning.

Ross will continue to lead the party during the campaign and participate in televised debates with other Scottish leaders, despite essentially being a lame-duck figure with questionable support from his own party. The scandals around his expenses and multiple jobs are likely to be an easy win for his rivals, and could damage the party’s prospects further.

Meanwhile, ambitious MPs and MSPs are expected to use the election campaign as an opportunity to position themselves for a leadership bid, potentially increasing the party’s public disunity.

Ross’s departure will be music to the ears of the Scottish National Party, which is desperate to avoid a collapse in Westminster representation after a turbulent 18 months of damaging scandals — and also to the Labour Party, which is hoping once again to become Scotland’s largest party after almost a decade in the SNP’s shadows.

The U.K. general election takes place on July 4.

Categories / Elections, International, Politics

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