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The inside story behind chaotic 24 hours for Douglas Ross after dramatic Westminster U-turn

Here’s how the Tory leader ended up stepping back into the Westminster fold after David Duguid was blocked from standing.

Douglas Ross and David Duguid. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.
Douglas Ross and David Duguid. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

For years Douglas Ross insisted he would step down as an MP at the next Westminster election to focus his attention on Holyrood.

Instead he ended up emulating the return of Nigel Farage in a chaotic 24 hours which rocked his party.

Mr Ross might have hoped it looks like he’s stepping into the fold to replace an ill colleague at the last minute.

Original candidate David Duguid, MP for Banff and Buchan since 2017, spent four weeks in intensive care and remains in hospital.

And in another twist, Mr Duguid made clear he still wanted to stand – but had been blocked from doing so.

With recriminations already in full swing, how did the Tory leader ended up putting himself forward to run in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East?

Why is Douglas Ross running again?

In a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday morning, Mr Ross said he was the “best person” to stand despite his vow to depart Westminster.

By that point the news had already been leaked to the press after rampant speculation.

“I need to lead from the front,” was how he described his decision, emphasising his record against the SNP in past elections.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross. Image: PA.

Tory sources close to Mr Ross who spoke to The Press and Journal said Mr Ross was deemed the “best person” for the job.

They say the Scottish Conservative leader felt he had “no choice” other than to step into the void being left by Mr Duguid.

But why were no Tory councillors or MSPs able to come forward and take on the challenge?

Sources said Mr Ross was viewed as the only Conservative figure with the “national profile” to compete for the constituency, which the SNP will be targeting.

However, they acknowledged there was an element of risk to the U-turn given John Swinney’s party will now pour heavy resources into the Aberdeenshire seat.

At the 2019 election, Mr Ross held onto his Moray seat by just over 500 votes.

By contrast, Mr Duguid won in Banff and Buchan by more than 4,000 votes.

Both constituencies form part of the new Aberdeenshire North and Moray East constituency after boundary changes.

David Duguid says he can stand – why was he blocked?

Sources close to Mr Ross said their initial plan was to continue with Mr Duguid as the candidate when he was first admitted to hospital in April.

They hoped he would make a quick recovery and would be fit to campaign when the election campaign kicked off.

No efforts were made by the Tories at the time to find a backup candidate.

Rishi Sunak’s election announcement caught the Tories by surprise. Image: Shutterstock.

Sources acknowledge Mr Sunak’s election announcement on May 22 caught everyone by surprise.

A day later Mr Duguid revealed his long and difficult health battle to followers on social media, but said he remained determined to stand.

That very same day Conservative representatives requested a meeting with Mr Duguid to decide whether he would be fit to run.

They then visited him in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital on May 31.

On Monday this week, they asked for a second meeting.

The following day, the party’s management board – of which Mr Ross is not a part – concluded he would be unable to stand pending a final discussion.

David Duguid MP
David Duguid was dropped as a candidate by the Tories. Image: Scottish Conservatives

They met with Mr Duguid on Wednesday night, when the news was broken to him.

Tory sources claimed it is only fair for candidates to be subjected to scrutiny during election campaigns.

That was a problem given Mr Duguid would have been unable to canvass voters or knock doors while he recovers.

It’s understood Mr Ross would have been much less likely to stand had Mr Duguid pulled out of the race at an earlier stage, leaving more time to find a suitable candidate.

Nominations for anyone standing in the election close tomorrow.

How have Scottish Tories reacted?

If the country as a whole had no idea what Mr Ross was about to do, many of his colleagues in Holyrood were caught by surprise as well.

The Scottish Conservative chief hosted a quick meeting with his MSP group at 8.30am this morning before his formal announcement.

One senior insider said the mood among Holyrood Tories was “mixed” with a 50/50 split over whether it was the right move.

Some backed the Tory leader’s judgement that he is best-placed to fill in for Mr Duguid given the circumstances.

Others were less sure.

One MSP warned it is “not tenable” for Mr Ross to continue working in both Holyrood and Westminster for another five years, should he win.

Another said they were “surprised” at his U-turn, and admitted there was “concern” among the wider party about him running.

Despite Rishi Sunak’s campaign woes, Mr Ross had been praised for his pursuit of the SNP after the Michael Matheson scandal reignited.

There were fears this escalating row could undermine all of that, given the circumstances around Mr Duguid’s deselection.

“What a mess,” was how one MSP summed it up.

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