Douglas Ross insisted he will stay on as Scottish Tory leader after their election failure and claimed voters stayed home to “protest” against Boris Johnson.
The Conservative chief at Holyrood was met with criticism from Tory MSPs overnight as his party lost more than 60 council seats.
Mr Ross admitted he was “disappointed” with the results but said he has no plans to resign.
He believes the partygate scandal was the crucial factor that stopped traditional Tory voters in Scotland from going to the polls.
‘Lost all credibility’
One MSP told the Daily Record talks had taken place to remove Mr Ross as party leader.
They claimed that the Tory chief had “lost all credibility” following the disastrous election.
Veteran Conservative MSP Liz Smith questioned his decision to back Boris Johnson after previously demanding his resignation.
Former Holyrood Tory Adam Tomkins said Douglas Ross must “own the consequences” of the council results instead of “passing the buck”.
‘I’m in this for the long run’
Speaking today, Mr Ross said: “There are always questions about leadership immediately after an election.
“I’ve been clear I’m in this for the long run. We had our best ever result in a Scottish Parliament election under my leadership just 12 months ago.
“We will, as a team, redouble our efforts to win back these voters. We can win them back again by working extra hard.”
He added: “I absolutely take responsibility for the result the Scottish Conservatives had here in Scotland.”
Despite the poor election Mr Ross was strongly backed by a number of senior Tories.
Senior MSP Murdo Fraser told us: “I think Douglas is safe. Anybody who was out knocking on doors will know that the major issue was partygate.
“People were concerned about the performance of the UK Government and in particular the prime minister. I don’t think this was a reflection on Douglas Ross.
“There’s lessons to be learned about the way the campaign was fought and we’ll need to consider all these issues in the cold light of day. I don’t think anybody will be challenging Douglas for the leadership.”
Former Tory chief Ruth Davidson also backed Mr Ross and said the Conservatives had suffered major losses across all of the UK.
Scottish Tory peer Lord Duncan of Springbank claimed the cost of living crisis had also cost the Conservatives north of the border.
He said: “A lot of good councillors were not returned. And I suspect it had everything to do with the national picture.
“I suppose at the moment Douglas is probably on watch only because the party will have expected him to repeat the successes of Ruth Davidson.
“That is the comparison he will have to face up to. It’s a serious challenge for him because she was an extraordinary leader. He’s got to be able to do the same.”
He added: “The results here themselves were, while disappointing, certainly not catastrophic in Scotland.
“Douglas needs to reflect upon the question as to whether the prime minister should continue without any hindrance or not.”
While Mr Ross urged Boris Johnson to listen to anger from voters, he refused to call for him to quit again.
However, he admitted that the prime minister’s position could be put in jeopardy if he is found to have deliberately misled parliament.
He said: “There is clearly no way a prime minister could continue if they are suspended from parliament. But we are a long way from that.”
It was a huge blow for the Conservatives to fall behind Anas Sarwar’s Labour, which picked up council seats across the country.
‘We are close to regaining second place’
But Mr Ross insisted his party can remain the biggest unionist force in Scotland at the next Westminster and Holyrood elections.
He said: “We are, once all the first preferences have been counted, two percentage points behind Labour.
“We were coming from a high base in 2017. Labour were coming from one of their worst results.
“It is absolutely doable that we can listen to voters and work hard over the next few weeks and months and years to regain their trust. I think we are close to regaining second place.”