Douglas Ross pledged to rebuild Scotland by restoring the education system and empowering remote communities when he was officially declared Scottish Conservative leader.
The Moray MP was installed as leader unopposed less than a week after Jackson Carlaw’s sudden resignation and takes over responsibility for his party’s fight against Scottish independence.
The new leader will work in tandem with Ruth Davidson, who will be charged with taking on Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
No other Tories stood against Mr Ross, enabling the party to avoid a lengthy and potentially divisive leadership contest just 10 months out from the Scottish election.
His swift “coronation”, on a “joint ticket” with Ms Davidson, means for the first time since devolution the Scottish Conservatives will be run by a politician based at Westminster rather than the Scottish Parliament.
But on his first day in the new job, Mr Ross was accused of making a gaffe when, in an interview with Bauer Radio, he suggested his party was heading for defeat at the hands of the SNP in next year’s election.
Mr Ross said after the 2021 contest he hoped to be returned to Holyrood to lead a “strong, united” Tory party that would provide “scrutiny and opposition” to the SNP.
Day one of being Scottish Tory leader and Douglas Ross concedes his party will be in opposition after the 2021 election. https://t.co/XdHzcRQGu3
— Monica Lennon (@MonicaLennon7) August 5, 2020
Ms Davidson’s new role marks her return to front-line politics just six months after she quit as Scottish Tory leader.
Ms Davidson, the Edinburgh Central MSP, still plans to step down from Holyrood at the May election and will then take up her new seat in the House of Lords.
In statement, Mr Ross said: “My focus now is on earning the support and trust of people across Scotland who are looking for a positive and credible alternative in Scotland, and who want a fresh start for our country.
“In taking on this job today, I am applying for another: to champion a post-referendum Scotland where we focus not on the divisions of the past but on rebuilding our country from the brink, restoring our reputation for educational excellence, empowering our regions and remote communities, and providing the decent jobs that everyone can aspire to.
“I am applying to work for anyone and everyone in Scotland who wants that to be the focus of our national debate, who wants to move the country forward, and wants that work to start now.”
Mr Ross described his new role as “the privilege of a lifetime” as he voiced his concerns about this week’s grading of pupils, which led to fears that poorer youngsters had been disadvantaged following the cancellation of exams.
“I begin this next step in my life as many young people consider their own futures,” Mr Ross said. “The nervous wait for exam results by thousands of young Scots yesterday ended for too many – particularly for those from more disadvantaged areas – in disappointment, confusion and anger. As leader, education will be a crucial policy area for the Scottish Conservatives. Right now, I know many young people and teachers don’t feel that it is a top priority for the Scottish Government.
“All of this requires a huge amount of work – in a short space of time. But my guarantee to Scots is that when we head to the polling stations next May, the Scottish Conservatives will provide them with the credible and competent alternative to the SNP that the country so desperately needs.”
Those seeking the leadership required to be nominated by 100 members. Mr Ross, with the help of Ms Davidson and others, quickly secured enough support in the days after Mr Carlaw’s resignation late on Thursday afternoon.
No-one else in the party made a meaningful bid to attract the required amount of support, although there had been speculation that education spokesman Jamie Greene might stand.
The Conservatives have pinned their hopes on the Ross/Davidson team to turn around the party’s fortunes and offer a meaningful challenge to the SNP next year and head off independence.
Mr Ross becomes leader at a hugely challenging time for his party. A recent Panelbase poll put support for Scottish independence at a record 54%. Other polls have put SNP support at 55% and the Conservatives at around 20%.
Mr Carlaw resigned shortly after visits to Scotland by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, when they were briefed about the Conservatives’ struggles north of the border.
It is understood Mr Carlaw quit after he was confronted by senior figures in the Scottish party who were worried about internal polling that demonstrated he was not cutting through with the public.
In his resignation statement, Mr Carlaw said he had come to the “painful conclusion” he was not the best person to lead the case for Scotland remaining in the UK ahead of next year’s Holyrood election.
I've just spoken to @Douglas4Moray and congratulated him on becoming leader of the @ScotTories. I look forward to working with Douglas to promote Scotland's place in our United Kingdom 🇬🇧 https://t.co/Q5VC6nuv3I
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 5, 2020
Mr Ross was congratulated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tweeted: “I’ve just spoken to @Douglas4Moray and congratulated him on becoming leader of the @ScotTories.
“I look forward to working with Douglas to promote Scotland’s place in our United Kingdom.”
SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP attacked Mr Ross’s elevation, saying: “Douglas Ross is Boris Johnson’s man in Scotland. Westminster has launched a total takeover of the Scottish Tories and installed a Brexit-backing MP to act as a puppet for Downing Street.”