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Sketch: Douglas Ross introduces himself to the gallery, undecided voters and an empty Perth Concert Hall

Looking out at row after row of empty seats at Perth Concert Hall, it was striking to think this was one of the busier events this conference season.

Like everything else this year, coronavirus has played its hand and won, forcing the Scottish Conservatives to log-on and Zoom out to the party faithful.

New leader Douglas Ross was subjected to a Q&A from yours truly, discussing Brexit, pandemic response, leadership skills and whatever Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said this week to undermine his colleagues north of the border.

Douglas Ross speaks to Paul Malik.

With his predecessor, Jackson Carlaw, lasting little more than five months in the role, and former (former) leader Ruth Davidson taking the reins at Holyrood until her ermine is delivered, Mr Ross not only has to introduce himself to the country between now and May, but his base too.

A base he is asking to consider new, not entirely Conservative, policy ideas.

Extending free school meals, scrapping tuition fees and asking for more, not fewer, lower-waged foreign workers to be allowed into the country would not look out of place on SNP, Lib Dem or even Labour manifestos.

Mr Ross denied he is “lurching to the left”, but acknowledges for the party to have any chance at forming a government after the election, they need to appeal to people who would have once balked at the thought of putting a large X next to the Tory candidate.

Interestingly, he didn’t rule out offering the “olive branch” to fellow unionist — constitutional, if not trade — Richard Leonard, or “anyone else” for the “benefit” of the country.

Richard Leonard.

Of course, if Mr Ross and Mr Leonard do go into coalition to keep the Nats from power, then Mr Leonard would have to sack himself as party leader and remove his own whip, in keeping with the Aberdeen nine.

The farmer’s boy described himself as a “glutton for punishment”, given he is already an MP and assistant referee (linesman) and hoping to become MSP and leader of either the opposition or the government.

This will stand him in good stead, then, for the constant fires he and his party are forced to subdue week in, week out by a prime minister described by many as the biggest threat to the union.

Week’s a long time in politics…

Mr Ross said it is better not to be a clone, in any case, in a swipe at the SNP, and was happy to politic his own party and anyone else, fairly and in an appropriate manner.

A week is a long time in politics and May’s election is several dozen of them in the distance.

The polls look pretty solid for Ms Sturgeon and the SNP, but if 2020 has taught us one thing it is that everything we once knew need not apply.

If he can win his seat, convince his party to back his new-wave policies and Labour and Lib Dem unionists there is no alternative other than an unholy-alliance, then who knows what might happen.

But to channel Mr Ross’s favourite sparring partner, it is a pretty laconic “if”.

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