Ruth Davidson to stage temporary comeback after Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw quits

Jackson Carlaw in the Scottish Parliament chamber on Thursday before he quit as Scottish Tory leader - Getty Images Europe
Jackson Carlaw in the Scottish Parliament chamber on Thursday before he quit as Scottish Tory leader - Getty Images Europe

Ruth Davidson is to stage a temporary comeback fronting the Tories in the Scottish Parliament after her successor suddenly resigned less than six months into the job.

Ms Davidson, who is expected to receive a peerage in the coming days, is to step into the breach at First Minister's Questions after Jackson Carlaw shocked Holyrood by quitting. However, she will not be interim leader.

His decision leaves the Scottish Tories without a leader for the second time in a year, and with the Holyrood election looming next May.

Senior party figures are planning a speedy coronation for Douglas Ross, the Moray MP, to replace him as leader, with a campaign launch expected on Saturday.

He intends to stand for Holyrood in next May's election on the Highlands and Islands list but until then Ms Davidson will lead the attack on Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions.

Insiders said Mr Ross, who resigned as a junior minister in protest at the Dominic Cummings scandal, will not trigger a by-election by resigning his Westminster seat.

Instead he plans to hold a dual mandate as both an MP and MSP until the next general election. Alex Salmond did the same after becoming an MSP and First Minister in 2007.

The blueprint to replace Mr Carlaw emerged only minutes after he announced his resignation, declaring he had reached the "painful conclusion" that he was not the best person to make the case "for Scotland's place in the United Kingdom."

Amid polls showing tumbling support for the Scottish Tories and increased backing for independence, Mr Carlaw said it was time for someone new to make the case for both the party and the Union.

Boris Johnson led tributes to him, saying he had been a "tremendous servant" to the party for almost four decades, while Ms Davidson said she could not "thank him enough" for the eight years he was her deputy.

Mr Carlaw was elected leader in February after filling in temporarily for Ms Davidson while she was on maternity leave last year, then again when she resigned last August.

But insiders said the 61-year-old Eastwood MSP had lost the confidence of his colleagues at Holyrood, the party's MPs, donors and senior officials.

He received a barrage of internal criticism at the start of the pandemic for being "too consensual" with Ms Sturgeon over her approach, only to veer too far the other way with scattergun attacks that appeared politically opportunistic.

Senior sources said he failed to "cut through" with the public and there was widespread anger in the Holyrood group over his indecision during the Cummings affair, when he initially remained silent while members of his team went public with their demands for the adviser to quit.

One said: "Jackson realises it hasn't happened for him, it's clear people want someone fronting the party who is up to taking on Nicola Sturgeon."

They said he had intended to stand down after the election but he had decided in the 48 hours before his resignation to go immediately.

Boris Johnson with Douglas Ross, the Moray MP - Getty Images Europe
Boris Johnson with Douglas Ross, the Moray MP - Getty Images Europe

Referring to the campaign for the Union, Mr Carlaw said: "In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion - that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections."

He added: "It is not an easy call but I have spent a lifetime in politics holding to the maxim that party and country comes first. I believe I am doing my duty by holding to that view now."

The Prime Minister said: "As an activist, deputy chairman, deputy leader and leader, he has given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.

“It is a mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time and I offer my best wishes to him, Wynne and the family.”

The Scottish Tories' management board will meet today to decide the timetable for selecting a new leader, with insiders predicting the quickest possible process and a coronation for Mr Ross.

It is understood he has the support of Mr Carlaw, Ms Davidson and David Mundell, the former Scottish Secretary. Michelle Ballantyne, who contested the leadership with Mr Carlaw, told the Telegraph she also backed him as a "strong" leader.

John Lamont, the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP, has been appointed his campaign manager and a round of TV interviews is planned on Friday followed by a formal launch on Saturday.

Mr Lamont said: "We need a new standard bearer for the Unionist cause and I think Douglas is the man to do that." He said that his resignation over the Cummings affair demonstrated his "independence of thought".

The son of a farm worker, Mr Ross also became a Fifa-accredited assistant referee, running the line in top-flight Scottish football matches and Champions League games featuring the top players in Europe.

The 37-year-old came to prominence when he was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 as part of Ms Davidson's reinvigoration of the party.

However, he was not at Holyrood for long, standing in the Moray seat in the following year's snap general election called by Theresa May.

In one of the political scalps of the night, he overturned the 9,065 majority enjoyed by Angus Robertson, then the SNP's Westminster leader, and took the seat.