By Alistair Grant

A BUSINESSWOMAN and former nurse running to be the next Scottish Conservative leader has said “serious lessons” need to be learned after the party lost half its seats at the general election.

Michelle Ballantyne, the party’s social security spokeswoman at Holyrood, said it would be wrong to “pat ourselves on the back for a result that saw our vote share fall since 2017 and saw us lose half of our seats”.

In an apparent dig at the current leadership, she said the Tories had failed to pitch a “truly aspirational blue-collar policy offering” in Scotland, unlike in areas where the party took seats from Labour down south.

She added: “There is no room for continuity or complacency. Change is needed.”

READ MORE: Michelle Ballantyne: I want Scottish Tories to lead a blue-collar revolution

Writing in The Herald, she insisted the downfall of Scottish Labour made it “hugely important that the Scottish Conservatives offer a new home for the working people of Scotland”.

She insisted: “I don’t just talk blue-collar. I am blue-collar.”

Ms Ballantyne is the only MSP to go up against Jackson Carlaw, who has been leading the party on an interim basis since Ruth Davidson stood down last year, in the race for the top job.

Mr Carlaw’s campaign is backed by 23 of the 31 Scottish Tory MSPs.

He has also enlisted a top public relations firm, Halogen Communications, to boost his bid to land the job permanently.

Ms Ballantyne has yet to secure the public support of any MSP. Her team said “there’s still conversations going on behind the scenes”, and pointed to backing from the party’s grassroots.

Writing in The Herald, the South Scotland MSP highlighted her “first-hand experience of working on the front line of our NHS as a nurse”, and described it as the root of her “immense pride in and love” for the health service.

She also underlined her experience working in the voluntary sector and heading up a drug and alcohol service for young people and offenders, as well as being the patron of a food bank.

Ms Ballantyne said her time building a manufacturing company with her husband meant she appreciated “the unique challenges that small and large businesses, and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, face on a daily basis”.

The mother-of-six said: “I want a truly blue-collar revolution that reshapes the priorities of the Scottish Parliament so that it delivers for working people across Scotland.”

Referencing the general election success of the Tories in traditional Labour-voting areas down south, she said: “The success across England and Wales can be our success too.

“In those areas where the Conservatives broke through the Labour red wall, we pitched a truly aspirational blue-collar policy offering, which we failed to do in Scotland. We never gave Labour voters a positive reason to vote for us.

“It’s time for a full blue-blooded, blue-collar, offering.

“I am not a career politician. Whether you’re a public service worker, a businessperson or a parent who’s concerned about their children’s future, I have walked a mile in your shoes and I have first-hand experience of the challenges we all have to deal with in our daily lives. Therefore, I believe I can start to build the bridge between our party and working people across Scotland.”

Ms Ballantyne previously faced criticism for insisting it is “fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and do not claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have”.

She said she strongly believed Scottish Tory members deserved a leadership contest, rather than a coronation.

She added: “If we’re serious about defeating Nicola Sturgeon in 2021, then, as the recent general election has shown us we cannot afford to backtrack on the progress we made in 2016 and 2017.

“As a new leader, I believe I am the best-placed candidate to take our party forward. To take us from being simply a party of opposition to a party of Government.”

Mr Carlaw, who was Ms Davidson’s deputy, previously said the Scottish Tories “must be rooted in the ‘blue-collar Conservatism’ of the centre ground”, and warned some “well established” party policies may have to change.

Ms Davidson stood down in August last year, citing both her “conflict” over Brexit and the birth of her son Finn.

Nominations to replace her close at noon on January 17. Contenders must win the backing of 100 party members.