Douglas Ross says he does not know whether Boris Johnson will visit Scotland to campaign for the Scottish Conservatives, despite the prime minister previously insisting “wild horses won’t keep me away”.
Mr Johnson faced criticism from the Scottish Government over his trip north of the border in January, at the height of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with Nicola Sturgeon claiming the visit was not for essential purposes.
The prime minister was asked during the January trip whether his relationship with Mr Ross – who quit his Cabinet post over the Dominic Cummings fiasco – means local Tory politicians may want him stay away from the campaign.
He said “wild horses won’t keep me away” and insisted he will be “campaigning across the whole of the country” but Mr Ross has repeatedly refused to confirm whether Mr Johnson or other big hitters in the UK Government will join him on the campaign trail.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday, Mr Ross was asked whether the prime minister will be coming to Scotland to answer the concerns of businesses affected by Brexit red tape.
‘He wants to resolve these issues’
He said: “I’m not sure if he’s going to come up. I previously expected him to come up.
“Clearly it’s a different election than any of us have experienced before but the prime minister continues to engage with people across the whole of the United Kingdom and he also hears the concerns of those who are upset with the current arrangements, and he wants to resolve these issues as well.”
Mr Ross said as recently as last month that he expected to be joined by the prime minister on the campaign trail but just weeks later it appears those plans are in doubt.
Mr Johnson has been at the centre of a political storm over claims he provided access and public money to Jennifer Arcuri, an American businesswoman he is alleged to have had an affair with, and a recent poll found just 23% of Scots think he is trustworthy.
Still searching for seal of approval
He has the lowest approval ratings of any leading politician in Scotland, with the exception of only Alex Salmond, and is frequently cited in polling as one of the reasons support for independence has increased.
Asked whether Mr Johnson may not visit because party bosses in Scotland are concerned he could be damaging to the campaign, Mr Ross insisted the prime minister is “fully in touch with what we’re doing here”.
“But he understands it’s my campaign, as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, it’s our manifesto,” Mr Ross added.
“He is absolutely behind what we’re doing here in Scotland but he knows our fight is as Scottish Conservatives, and he is backing that as prime minister of the United Kingdom.”
There has also been controversy over the actions of David Cameron, a former Conservative prime minister, on behalf of the collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital.
Mr Cameron faces questions over allegations he sent a series of text messages to the personal phone of chancellor Rishi Sunak in April last year to seek special access to emergency Covid loans for Greensill.
The application was rejected and Greensill subsequently filed for insolvency, rendering Mr Cameron’s reported tens of millions of share options in the firm worthless.
Mr Ross was challenged on whether there is now a trust issue for senior UK Conservative figures in Scotland and if this is the reason Mr Johnson and his ministers will not be appearing in Scotland during the election campaign.
He said: “I think what the voters in Scotland look at right now is the protections that they’ve received through the furlough scheme.
“The prime minister’s government has introduced one of the most generous furlough schemes anywhere in the world, the self-employed income support, the 90,000 businesses across Scotland who have been helped by business support and of course, the UK wide vaccination scheme.”