FORMER Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross is being lined up to lead the Scottish Tories and defend the Union after the resignation of Jackson Carlaw.

The only UK minister to resign over the Dominic Cummings scandal, Mr Ross is understood to have the backing of Ruth Davidson and other senior party figures.

Mr Ross, 37, who was an MSP for a year before switching to Westminster in 2017, phoned Tory MSPs to canvas support within minutes of Mr Carlaw quitting as Scottish leader this afternoon. 

READ MORE: Jackson Carlaw quits as Scottish Conservative leader

The SNP said the Scottish Tories were in "crisis" and said Mr Carlaw's likely replacement by "an MP who couldn’t hack it at Holyrood and ran off to Westminster shows how slim the pickings really are”.

Mr Carlaw, who had been in post less than six months, said he come to the “painful conclusion” that he was not the best person to lead the party into the 2021 election. 

The SNP is hoping to a secure a second independence referendum by winning another outright majority in May.

Mr Carlaw’s brief tenure coincided with support for independence passing 50 per cent and Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity soaring over her handling of the Covid crisis.

While he was interim leader last year, the Scottish Tories also lost seven of their 13 MPs in the general election, with Scotland the only part of the UK to see a Tory reversal.

Besides the failure to move the polls in his favour, sources said Mr Carlaw had suffered a "huge loss of confidence" over his performance against Ms Sturgeon at Holyrood, not knowing when to support her during the pandemic and when to score political points.

“I know he’s not been enjoying it,” said one MSP. “I think he’s been surprised how bloody difficult it is. He does not have the authority in the Holyrood group that Ruth had.” 

Ms Davidson, whose own resignation last year led to Mr Carlaw taking over, is now expected to take his place at FMQS when parliament returns after August 11.

Mr Carlaw’s announcement just before 5pm came as a shock at Holyrood, with many of his own MSPs being caught unawares.

It is understood he only informed Boris Johnson in the morning, and his staff in the afternoon.

Mr Ross’s plan is to become leader in the coming weeks - possibly through a coronation rather than a contest - then return to Holyrood at next year’s election.

A similar model was used by the SNP from 2004 to 2007, when Alex Salmond was a long-distance leader while an MP, and Ms Sturgeon led the SNP at Holyrood until his return. 

Mr Ross resigned as a Scotland Office minister in May after Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s top adviser, refused to quit for breaking the coronavirus lockdown.

The Moray MP said Mr Cummings’s excuses for driving 260 miles from London to Durham was "not shared by the vast majority of people".

At the time, it was seen as an early end to a promising career, but it will now be cited as the kind of independent streak that proved such a useful selling point for Ms Davidson. 

Mr Carlaw, 61, a Remainer who was loyal to Boris Johnson despite frustration with him, became leader in February after defeating the pro-Brexit MSP Michelle Balllantyne.

In his resignation statement, he said: "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.”

He said he had enjoyed his eight years as deputy to Ms Davidson, but his maxim in politics had always been that “party and country comes first”.

 He said: “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 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.

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

The Prime Minister 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, [his wife] Wynne and the family.”

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “I wish Jackson Carlaw all the best. We’ve crossed swords politically on many occasions, but worked constructively on some issues too - he has, for example, been a strong voice for women suffering mesh complications. 

“Leadership is a tough business and I’m sure his decision wasn’t easy.”

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: "Jackson clearly understands that voters in Scotland simply don’t want what Boris Johnson and the Tories are selling.

READ MORE: Jackson Carlaw: How Scotland reacted to Tory leader stepping down

"Today's resignation is further evidence of the growing discomfort with their position as a Westminster party.

“With the surge of recent resignations, and a distinct lack of talent in their ranks, the Scottish Tories are in real crisis.

“The fact the only person being thought of as a replacement is an MP who couldn’t hack it at Holyrood and ran off to Westminster shows how slim the pickings really are.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “I wish Jackson Carlaw well, and I am sure he will continue to make a valuable contribution to Scottish politics. 

“Although a political opponent he has remained courteous and respectful.

"With Covid-19 still a real and dangerous threat, it is important that we work together to tackle the public health and economic crises the country now faces. 

“As part of this approach, it is crucial that the UK and Scottish Governments co-operate in Scotland's best interests. Jackson Carlaw's successor will have a special responsibility to persuade Boris Johnson and his Government to do that.”