Cummings row ex-minister set to become new Scots Tory leader

Football referee Douglas Ross, who quit as a minister in protest at Dominic Cumming’s trip to Durham during lockdown, is set to be crowned new Scottish Tory leader today

  • The 37-year-old is set to be unveiled this afternoon to replace Jackson Carlaw
  • Former Champions League linesman once missed a vote to officiate in a game
  • Quit as minister in May after Mr Cummings drove to Durham during lockdown

A former Tory minister who quit in protest after Boris Johnson refused to sack Dominic Cummings during the lockdown is set to be crowned the party’s new leader in Scotland today.

Douglas Ross, a 37-year-old former Champions League linesman and referee, is set to be unveiled this afternoon.

No other challenger has put themselves forward or been nominated by the requisite 100 members to ensure a leadership contest after Jackson Carlaw resigned last week.

Moray MP Mr Ross, whose campaign is backed by charismatic former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, resigned as a Scottish Office minister in May after Mr Cummings drove his family from London to County Durham during the lockdown.

The MP, who was previously best known for missing a Commons vote to run the line in a Champions League game, said in his resignation letter he could not in ‘good faith’ tell his constituents ‘they were all wrong’ to observe lockdown ‘and one senior adviser to the government was right’. 

Mr Ross is expected to run for a seat in Holyrood at next year’s election and has asked Ms Davidson – who has been made a peer by Mr Johnson – to fill in for him at First Minister’s Questions when the Scottish Parliament resumes next week. 

Moray MP Mr Ross, whose campaign is backed by charismatic former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, resigned as a Scottish Office minister in May after Mr Cummings drove his family from London to County Durham during the lockdown

Douglas Ross was previously less well known as a member of Boris Johnson’s government than he was as a football referee.

After being elected as the MP for the Scottish seat of Moray in 2017 the married father-of-one, 37, kept his £40,000-a-year footballing job on the side.

The following October he ran the line in a Champions League match as the Spanish giants Barcelona took on Greek side Olympiacos and their enormous Camp Nou stadium. 

The dual-role was not without controversy as he has occasionally missed votes in Westminster – and before that as an MSP in Holyrood – to officiate in matches.

His Barcelona appearance saw him miss a vote on welfare payments, which Theresa May humiliatingly lost.

Mr Ross ousted the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson to win the Moray seat and the Tories insisted his constituents supported his refereeing work. 

But he scaled back his football commitments from 2017 after they attracted more attention, deciding not to officiate while Parliament was sitting.

He was born and raised in his constituency in the north east of Scotland and served it as a councillor and as an MSP before heading to Westminster. 

He married Krystle in 2015 and they celebrated the birth of their son last year.  

Nominations close on Wednesday at noon, with Mr Ross appointed leader if no challenger materialises. 

Mr Carlaw stepped down on Thursday, saying he believed he was not ‘the person best placed’ for the leadership.

Former Scottish Secretary David Mundell, current depute leaders Annie Wells and Liam Kerr and a host of MSPs and councillors have backed Mr Ross’ rise to the leadership along with Mr Carlaw and Ms Davidson.

He has already signalled his intent to unveil a plan for Scotland’s economy in the first 30 days of his leadership, effectively launching the Conservatives’ election campaign for 2021.

The MP also said he wants to hand more powers to local authorities, accusing the Scottish Government of a ‘power grab’ over the 13 years the SNP have been in power.

As for a second independence referendum, with support for leaving the UK polling at 54 per cent in two Panelbase polls in June and July, Mr Ross said: ‘We had that vote six years ago and we were told it was a once in a generation event.

‘What I want to do is leave that in the past.’

Mr Ross, who previously represented the Highland and Islands region at Holyrood before beating then SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson for the Moray constituency, resigned as a minister in the Scotland office in May in the aftermath of government adviser Dominic Cummings’ efforts to defend a trip to Durham during lockdown.

The MP told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme he can be an ‘ strong independent voice’ and will stand against the UK Government if it proposes a policy he does not agree with.

If elected he is certain to be found a safe seat for the Scottish Parliament elections next year. 

In a joint op-ed in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday, Mr Ross and Ms Davidson called for a ‘fresh start’ for Scotland.

‘We have come together – one of us a former leader, and one now preparing to lead – to offer Scotland that vision of positive change for the future. United in purpose, we want to take on the SNP and take Scotland forward,’ they wrote.

‘Our vision is very clear. The coronavirus pandemic has shown we must leave the old divisions behind us. 

‘We cannot go back to the politics of nationalism – of us v them. We believe, therefore, what Scotland needs is a party with a patriotic vision that focuses less on opening up divisions than on opening up opportunities and life chances for our people. 

‘That means ending the focus on the grievance culture that so dominates Scotland’s national life. 

‘Instead, it means putting all the energies, talents and powers of Scotland into where they should be: on restoring Scotland’s reputation for educational excellence, on creating the jobs that ensure our people dignity and opportunity, and on securing a health service with clean, safe hospitals.

‘In short, if you want Scotland to move forward from a decade of division and come back together, then both of us are going to be asking for your vote.’

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