Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross played down suggestions the Westminster party was interfering in his party campaign and that he had not been “sidelined” in favour of Ruth Davidson
Data collected for this paper by Survation suggests the Tories could finish third to Labour in May’s election.
The polling also showed Ms Davidson, who is set to become a member of the House of Lords later this year, was more favourable among voters than Mr Ross.
Ms Davidson led the Tories to their best ever electoral win in 2016, with the party becoming the main opposition at Holyrood for the first time.
The SNP accused the Conservatives of “side-lining” Mr Ross in place of Ruth Davidson on election materials.
If we can get rid of (SNP fights with Westminster), we can then focus on the domestic policies that I am really excited about, for the Scottish Parliament to be 100% focused on and attention to be given where it is deserved.”
Mr Ross suggested senior Westminster figures including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak could visit ahead of May’s vote, but when pressed on a guarantee could not give one.
The Scottish Conservative leader, who succeeded Jackson Carlaw in 2020 after the MSP had been in charge for only six months, said full focus could only be given to domestic issues with the SNP out of government.
He said: “Central office in London has no part to play in this campaign. We have our own central office in Edinburgh and it is a campaign I’ve been leading in the run-up and now we are in the campaign we have developed unique policies here in Scotland and the UK party may look and discuss what we are doing but they have no role to play in how we decide how we fight this election and what policies we fight it on or anything to do with the campaign on the ground. It is a 100% Scottish Conservative campaign.
“Our focus is absolutely on the SNP domestic record. We have seen 14 years of failure from them in the North East and across Scotland.
“That’s why we have put forward plans to recruit 3,000 teachers in Scotland, because that is how many teachers we have lost since the SNP came into power in 2007.
“That has had a knock-on effect on the number of subjects pupils can do in secondary school, which then has a knock-on effect on what they can go to study or pursue for work.
“Our policies are all routed in a desire to see an improvement in Scotland after the last 14 years.
“But unlike other parties in Scotland we don’t ignore the threat of another independence referendum.
“The SNP have used their time in office to create fights with the UK government, to try and win greater support to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK.
“If we can get rid of that we can then focus on the domestic policies that I am really excited about, for the Scottish Parliament to be 100% focused on and attention to be given where it is deserved.”
SNP vote ‘softest in years’
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie warned voters face the “dreadful prospect” of the Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Ross arguing about the constitution instead of policy matters.
North East Fife candidate Mr Rennie said his party had a “real chance” of making gains next month, as he claimed voters were looking to switch away from the SNP.
Mr Rennie said: “What the polls are hiding is a softness in the SNP vote that I have not seen for years.”
He added voters “have not moved yet, but they are ready to move” and said that “we are opening the door for them”.
“I think the more people see the arguments between all of the different factions of the nationalist movement, I think the more they will want progressive change, an alternative to what has been on offer for the last few years.”
Douglas Ross ‘benched for Baroness’
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “Douglas Ross has failed so badly in his short time as Scottish Tory leader that when the campaign goes into panic mode, they have dropped him to the subs bench and rolled out Baroness Ruth Davidson to be Boris Johnson’s representative in Scotland.
“He is used to being on the side-lines in his refereeing career, but now he’s there in his political career too – if the situation was so ‘mission-critical’, why is he not the man in the middle?
“It is desperation from the Tories that the only option they have left is to wheel out Baroness Davidson before she skulks off to her £300-a-day job in the unelected House of Lords – she is the democracy denier in chief.”
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie had earlier suggested: “Douglas Ross is used to spending time on the side-lines – but it’s now clear even his own party thinks he should be put on the subs bench.”