The new leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said he has an “open mind” on crucial issues such as free tuition fees, as he promised to offer a “credible and competent” alternative to the SNP.
Douglas Ross, the former Scotland Office minister, said that he would seek input from across the country in drawing up his party’s manifesto ahead of next year’s Holyrood election. He was confirmed as the new party leader at noon on Wednesday, after no other challengers came forward.
On the totemic issue of tuition fees, at the last Holyrood election Ruth Davidson backed charging a endowment of £6,000 for a four year course, which was to be repaid after graduation. It has been suggested that the Scottish Tories could back free tuition fees for the next election, which would be a stark contrast with the party’s position south of the border, where students are charged up to £9,250 per year.
I've just spoken to @Douglas4Moray and congratulated him on becoming leader of the @ScotTories. I look forward to working with Douglas to promote Scotland's place in our United Kingdom 🇬🇧 https://t.co/Q5VC6nuv3I— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 5, 2020
Asked where he stood on the issue, Mr Ross told The Daily Telegraph: “I’ve said, with my jobs paper in the first month, I’m going to be looking at all the policies the Scottish Conservatives have put forward in the past, but also alternative policies that we can take to the people of Scotland.
“I’m going to take the approach right from the start of my leadership that I have an open mind on all of these key issues, because when I take my manifesto to the people of Scotland next year, I want it to be one that truly stands up and represents communities and individuals in each part of the country. That’s why I have got an open mind on all of these policies, as we develop them with the team.”
Currently an MP, Mr Ross will stand for a Holyrood seat at May’s election. Ruth Davidson has agreed to stand in at First Minister’s Questions, and the pair this week said they would form a “joint ticket” to take on the nationalists.
Mr Ross confirmed that he has no plans to stand down as an MP, even after next May’s election, and argued having a seat in both the London and Edinburgh parliaments would be "a plus," allowing him to better represent the country.
He promised to donate one of his salaries to good causes in his local area, once he wins a Holyrood seat, saying: “I think it’s absolutely right to do that.”
He denied that he would be overshadowed by Ms Davidson, who is already well known to voters.
“Ruth has made it clear that she will be coming back to take First Minister’s Questions,” he said. “I think we all know she will be a robust and capable challenger to Nicola Sturgeon. But I am leader of the Scottish Conservative party, the buck stops with me.
“There is only one leader in this party, that is me. But it’s a united party, with renewed vigour, that I will lead into the election next year.”
He added: “I hope that we quickly increase my profile, not just so people recognise me on the TV, or in their newspapers, but recognise the positive narrative I am taking to this debate and the positive suggestions I have got to take Scotland forward.”
Mr Ross, 37, has insisted he is standing to become First Minister in next year’s elections, despite the SNP currently having an overwhelming lead in the polls.
Boris Johnson yesterday congratulated Mr Ross on his successful leadership campaign, saying: “"I look forward to working with Douglas to promote Scotland's place in our United Kingdom."
Mr Ross was appointed following Jackson Carlaw’s shock resignation last week, and after party bosses agreed an accelerated leadership election timetable.
The SNP claimed that Mr Ross was “Boris Johnson’s man in Scotland" and that he would be a “puppet for Downing Street”.
Keith Brown, the party’s deputy leader, said: "As his Westminster voting record proves, Mr Ross couldn't be more out of touch with Scotland.
"Whatever else we’ve learned in this whole grubby coup, and whatever their bluster, senior Tories are now effectively conceding publicly what they have been saying privately for some time - they know there is going to be an independence referendum. Otherwise why bother changing leaders?”