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Tory leader resigns

Carlaw quits saying ‘he’s not best placed to lead case for union’

Jackson Carlaw and press

Jackson Carlaw after his election in February (pic: Terry Murden)

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw today resigned saying that he is not the person best placed to lead the party’s case for staying in the union.

He was elected to succeed Ruth Davidson only in February and his announcement took the political community by surprise, with no indications beforehand that he was considering his position. Ms Davidson is expected to step in temporarily to lead the party.

In his statement Mr Carlaw indicated that he did not feel he was making headway in the key union debate amid speculation that he was forced to step down by Downing Street.

Only last week the Prime Minister made a flying visit to Scotland amid concern that support for the union is weakening, despite billions of pounds being poured into the economy.

There has also been disquiet among Tories in Scotland that Mr Carlaw was falling short in challenging the Scottish Government’s performance on public services and other key areas.

In his statement, Mr Carlaw said: “Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument. I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.

“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.”

Douglas Ross Moray MP

Favourite: Douglas Ross

Mr Carlaw stood in as interim leader after Ms Davidson resigned last August following the birth of her son, but also after the election as party leader of Boris Johnson whom she had publicly criticised.

However, she is being tipped to join the House of Lords. Moreover, Ms Davidson rallied the party to its best general election result for 35 years in 2017.

Mr Carlaw was elected after beating Michelle Ballantyne by 4,917 votes to 1,581 in a party ballot but he has not been able to build on his predecessor’s success amid suggestions that the party is not united. He did not offer Ms Ballantyne a top role in his shadow cabinet and tonight she said she believed Westminster had a hand in his departure.

Leading Tory MSP Adam Tomkins announced earlier this month that he will be leaving Holyrood before the 2021 election.

Douglas Ross MP resigned from the UK government over the Dominic Cummings debacle, but is being tipped as an early contender as Scottish leader, suggesting that any differences with Downing Street have been resolved. Mr Carlaw initially gave no opinion on whether Mr Cummings should resign, but later decided that he should go.

Mr Carlaw’s decision to step down comes in the same week that pressure was mounting on Richard Leonard’s leadership of Scottish Labour. Veteran party peer Lord Foulkes said Mr Leonard had not made headway with the party’s voters.

Jackson Carlaw’s full statement:

“Over the summer I have had the chance to think hard about my role as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

“Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument. I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.

“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.

“Given the importance I attach to the job, I’ve therefore decided to stand down with immediate effect.

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“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.

“I simply believe that a new leader will be able, as we recover from the COVID emergency, to make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the Union better than me. That is all that matters.

“I leave the job with genuine pride at my time in office, both as interim leader and as leader for the last year.

“I especially enjoyed the eight years as deputy leader and being an integral part of the success achieved.

“Managing the transition from Ruth Davidson’s leadership to a refreshed party has been a challenging task but I feel confident that I leave the role with the party in good heart and, crucially, with time to elect a new leader so he or she can prepare for the elections next year.

Ruth Davidson announcing her resignation (pic: Terry Murden)

“The Scottish Conservatives will fight those elections as we have always done – as the one party that will unequivocally speak up for all those Scots who do not want to go back to more division, but instead want our country to move on, as part of the United Kingdom, able to rise to the challenges of the future.

“I will fight that cause hard for these next few vital months as a loyal member of my party.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Jackson Carlaw has been a tremendous servant to the Scottish Conservative Party for more than four decades.

“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.”

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