Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross is “in it to win it” in the 2021 Holyrood elections, despite his party lagging behind the SNP in the polls.
Speaking to the BBC after his first conference as leader, Mr Ross looked to position his party as the voice of people outside the central belt.
The most recent poll from Panelbase earlier this month put the Tories in second place among decided voters with 20% in the regional vote and 21% in constituencies compared to the 46% and 53% for the SNP.
When asked if he believes that he can be the next First Minister of Scotland, Mr Ross said: “I’ve said many times that I’m in this to win this, it’s absolutely vital that I do everything that I can to ensure the Scottish Conservative policies that I’m developing, our team are bringing forward, that I think can really make a difference to people right across Scotland have every opportunity to be enacted.
“So, I’m in it to win it.”
Mr Ross also pointed to what he sees as failings from the current administration, including the scandal around the building of the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, which has been delayed for more than a year, to urge voters to swing to his party.
He said: “It doesn’t have to be like this, it doesn’t have to continue like this – there is an alternative and there’s a positive vision to take the country forward, and that’s what I’m bringing to the people of Scotland.”
The focus of next year’s election, the Tory said, should be on rebuilding following the coronavirus pandemic and not on the constitution.
He said: “People expect their politicians of all parties to be focused on that, on rebuilding our country post-Covid, not on an independence referendum that we were told was settled six years ago.”
On Friday, Mr Ross hinted he would be willing to enter into a coalition with Scottish Labour to keep the SNP out of power, a suggestion that was rejected by Labour on Saturday.
In a tweet, leader Richard Leonard said: “Scottish Labour happy to rule out a sensational deal with Douglas Ross. Or any kind of deal, for that matter.”
The reaction to a possible deal has led the Tories to say Labour are “not serious about stopping the SNP”.
The party’s constitution spokesman Dean Lockhart said: “They never put the union first.
“They’ve made it crystal clear that they will put tribal differences above stopping the SNP’s push for another divisive referendum next year.”