THE “knives are out” for Douglas Ross in the Scottish Tory party ranks after significant losses in the local elections, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
It comes as reports in the Daily Record say informal talks have already taken place among the Conservative group at Holyrood about ousting Ross.
The Moray MP had sent in a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, before U-turning and defending his position despite being fined for having broken his own Covid laws.
Polling for Savanta ComRes before the elections found 12% of Tory voters said they were less likely to back the party because of Ross’s flip-flopping.
Pollster Mark McGeoghegan wrote on Twitter: “Tories lost [one-fifth of] first preference votes from 2017. Assuming those Tory voters who reacted negatively to Ross’s U-turn didn’t vote for them, they account for roughly *half* of the votes lost.”
Asked what had caused the Tory losses, which saw them drop all but two seats in Glasgow, Sturgeon said: “A combination of things, partygate obviously, coupled with a sense that the Tories are out of touch on the cost of living and are not doing nearly enough, and I think just the way Douglas Ross shot himself in both feet and destroyed his own credibility has had a factor in this as well.
“I think he showed, if I was being gentle, naivety, and if I wasn’t being gentle, a complete lack of judgment and leadership over the past number of weeks.
“That’s for the Tories to consider, I think the knives are out for him already within the Scottish Tories but I’ll leave them to worry about that.”
The Conservatives lost 63 seats across Scotland after all the votes were counted, losing their position as the largest group on councils such as Perth and Kinross.
While they did make gains in some areas – including Moray and Aberdeenshire – those were far from sufficient to mask the fact that they were the only one of Holyrood’s five parties not to have a net positive result on Friday.
Ross has blamed the losses his party suffered on Johnson’s criminal behaviour, but has so far not again called for the Prime Minister to step down.
Senior Scottish Tory Liz Smith said: “Douglas will have to explain why he is defending him as Prime Minister but blaming him for the [poor local election] result. Douglas will have to explain the two sides of that coin.”
Former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins also said: “Douglas Ross owns this, not Boris. It was Douglas who U-turned, Douglas who flipped, and Douglas who backed the PM. He and his team need to own the consequences, not pass the buck.”
Reports in The Times say MSPs elected before Ross feel that his current leadership tack is “not working”.
Senior figures in the party are reportedly pushing for an end to the hardline anti-indyref2 stance the Tories have taken at the last two elections.
Sturgeon has at least some stake in whether Ross stays on as Scottish Tory leader, as the two have a £50 bet riding on who will last longer at the head of their party.