Douglas Ross said he is “delighted” former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is playing a prominent role in their election campaign after opposition attacks about him being sidelined.
The SNP and Labour have both claimed Mr Ross, a football linesman, has been “put on the subs bench” because of Ms Davison’s high-profile in their Holyrood election campaign.
But in a possible jibe at the SNP, whose former leader Alex Salmond now leads the Alba party, Mr Ross said he was pleased to have the “strong backing” of his predecessor.
Asked whether he was concerned Ms Davidson was eclipsing him, Mr Ross replied: “Ruth is one of the most successful politicians in Scottish politics, and she rightly plays a key role in our campaign going forward.”
He added: “It’s my team, my manifesto, my policies and I’m delighted Ruth is a strong, integral part of that team.”
The SNP’s depute leader Keith Brown had argued Mr Ross and the Conservatives were in “panic mode”, and said: “He is used to being on the side-lines in his refereeing career, but now he’s there in his political career too – if the situation was so ‘mission-critical’, why is he not the man in the middle?”
The remarks followed comments from Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie who said: “Douglas Ross is used to spending time on the side-lines – but it’s now clear even his own party thinks he should be put on the subs bench.”
Mr Ross, the Conservatives’ lead candidate on the Highland and Islands regional list, also told journalists that Boris Johnson would be involved in the Conservatives’ campaign although unable to say whether the Prime Minister or Chancellor would visit Scotland in person before polling day on May 6.
Speaking in a virtual press call, Mr Ross said he expects “senior members” of the Westminster government to be involved in “promoting work for the UK Government has done throughout this pandemic” on issues such as the vaccine rollout and furlough scheme.
“Clearly the message from the UK Government is a positive one in terms of the number of jobs that have been protected, the massive additional support here in Scotland during the last 12 months to allow us to tackle this pandemic,” he said.
“Despite what Nicola Sturgeon tries to say, and the SNP originally being very against the UK government’s approach with vaccine procurement and the rollout, it has been a massive success.”