The Scottish Conservatives will be a clear alternative to Nicola Sturgeon and her “morally and politically bankrupt” Scottish Government, new leader Jackson Carlaw has vowed.
He said he is determined the Tories will oust the SNP from power in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, insisting the nationalists are “failing” Scotland after 13 years in office.
After being elected as the new Tory leader in Scotland, Mr Carlaw said the SNP are “there to be replaced and I am determined Scottish Conservatives will do that”.
He won the backing of 4,917 Tory party members in Scotland in the leadership contest – comfortably ahead of social security spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne’s 1,581 votes.
Almost 60% of the party’s 10,911 “eligible electors” cast their vote in the contest.
Mr Carlaw – who served as deputy leader to his predecessor Ruth Davidson and stood in for her when she was on maternity leave – insisted he has a clear mandate from the party to “make the changes required to lead us into the election next year”.
He added: “This is not about asking the people of Scotland to re-elect us as a strong opposition, this is about offering the people of Scotland a clear alternative to the SNP and then fighting all the way to polling day next year to provide them with an alternative government.”
Mr Carlaw will start making appointments to his top team immediately – and is also scheduled to speak to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK Conservative Party leader, on Friday afternoon.
He made clear the Scottish Tories will “change further and for the better”, with new faces and new thinking.
As part of that, he pledged to push ahead with a review of party policies – which could see the Tories U-turn on their opposition to free higher education in Scotland as well as considering their position on the two-child cap brought in by the Conservatives at Westminster on some welfare payments.
After the policy review, Mr Carlaw said he will then ask “the people of Scotland to elect a Scottish Conservative government as the largest party at Holyrood in 2021.
He added: “In those circumstances I would hope to be the first minister delivering on that alternative programme.
“The result today demonstrates I have the clear confidence of the party. I have a bigger share of the vote than Boris Johnson achieved in his leadership election, I have a bigger share of the vote than Ruth Davidson achieved, a bigger share of the vote than David Cameron achieved in any of the previous Conservative Party leadership elections.
“So I have a clear mandate from the party in Scotland now to make the changes required to lead us into the election next year.”
He said he wants the Tories to come up with a fresh narrative for the union, insisting this must be positive and forward looking and not “lazy and historical”.
But he made clear his commitment to keeping Scotland in the UK, saying: “I will ensure we continue to stand four square behind Scotland’s place within our United Kingdom, and against an independence referendum that would divide our country all over again.”
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) February 14, 2020
He said he will stand up to the PM if needed, insisting: “When I think Scotland’s interests require me to speak out, I will.”
He told party activists who gathered in Edinburgh for the leadership announcement that he stands for “a decent, generous-spirited, aspirational Conservativism that promotes the values of middle Scotland”.
Mr Carlaw said: “I want us to continue the process of renewal, I want us to continue to reach out to people who have never voted for us before, as we have successfully done in recent times.
“Under my leadership the Scottish Conservatives will remain anchored on that sensible, solid middle ground where most Scots are and where elections are won and lost.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack offered his “warmest congratulations” to Mr Carlaw.
He added: “I look forward to working with him as he takes the Scottish Conservatives forward to next year’s Holyrood election.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “The big test for Mr Carlaw will be whether he will stand up for Scotland’s interests against Boris Johnson.
“He used to say that Boris Johnson wasn’t fit to be Prime Minister. He was right – but then he campaigned for precisely that.
“Just as they went from Remainers to hard Brexiteers, it’s obvious that the Scottish Tories will continue to parrot whatever line they’re handed down from Westminster.”