Ross admits press access to PM at conference ‘could have been handled better’

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has conceded that interaction between the Prime Minister and the press “could have been handled better” at the party’s conference after claims Mr Sunak attempted to dodge journalists.

Mr Ross also said the party is “absolutely” open and transparent, although he could not provide current membership figures.

Number 10 officials had originally planned to have a press conference with the Prime Minister and only a small number of invited journalists after his address to the conference in Glasgow on Friday.

When more than the invited number arrived they were initially allowed to stay, but an aide then told journalists Mr Sunak would only be doing a single interview with a broadcaster that could be shared with other outlets – prompting outrage from those in the room.

Scottish Conservative Party conference 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak alongside Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (left) at the Scottish Conservative Party conference (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Almost an hour later, as a result of negotiations between journalists and Number 10, aides said Mr Sunak would speak to the journalists, taking questions from the six initially invited, and also do a pooled broadcast interview.

When asked about the incident on the BBC’s Sunday Show, Mr Ross said of the Prime Minister: “He was on the stage for about 30 minutes and he spoke to the audience, he took questions from members across Scotland, he then did media interviews.

“Look it could have been handled better, I accept that, but he also spent a lot of time with members upstairs in one of the rooms in the SEC, so he had a lot of different priorities at conference.

“But again he was very upbeat, he was robust in saying that we need our two governments to work together, he’s absolutely determined to see that, because for example when they do work together we create two freeports in Scotland, one at Cromarty and one at Forth and that’s a huge investment for these areas.

“People can see when the governments work together they can actually deliver rather than what we get from the SNP, which is more division and trying to pick battles and fights with the UK Government.”

Mr Ross said he undertook 90 minutes of media interviews after his own speech at the conference, adding he is always happy to answer any questions from journalists.

Asked whether the Scottish Conservatives are open and transparent Mr Ross said: “Absolutely”.

However, when asked how many members the Scottish Tories have, he told interviewer Martin Geissler: “I’ve also answered this question many times, this is something we put out when there is a leadership election, that’s always been the case, and when those numbers come out they will be numbers that you and the public can trust.”

He said the figure was last issued in 2020 before he was party leader and that he thinks it was about 6,000 or 7,000, adding “I can’t remember off the top of my head”.