DOUGLAS Ross has stressed that Downing Street and Dominic Cummings were not involved in his decision to run for the Scottish Conservative leadership – confirming he will stay on as an MP if he becomes leader.

The Moray MP confirmed on Friday that he is running for the party’s top job, following Jackson Carlaw’s surprise decision to stand down the previous day.

Ruth Davidson, who resigned as the Scottish Tory leader last August, is set to deputise for him at First Minister’s Questions ahead of him seeking election to Holyrood next year.

Mr Ross confirmed he will contest a seat at May’s election if he wins the party leadership, though he will also continue as the MP for Moray.

He said he had been urged by colleagues to run for the leadership and insisted that Downing Street and Number 10 aide Mr Cummings were “absolutely not” involved in his decision to stand.

Mr Ross stepped down as junior minister in the Scotland office amid Mr Cummings’ controversial trip to Durham during the lockdown. Discussing Mr Carlaw, he said: “I think Jackson made a very honest and very brave appraisal of his leadership. He’s someone who has served this party extremely well for four decades.”

He added: “I believe as someone who has been a councillor, an MP and an MSP, I can take the fight to the SNP, which we need more of, and also present a positive vision of the party to the country in next May’s election.”

Mr Ross said he will stay on as an MP and will also continue in his role as a football referee – which he described as a “hobby that I do at the weekends.”

READ MORE: Douglas Ross formally announces Scottish Conservative leadership bid

He said: “It’s something that I find a great relief from the often stressful world of politics.

“While some politicians enjoy sitting down, relaxing, reading a book or going for a walk, I enjoy running around for 90 minutes officiating matches across Scotland.”

He said there is precedent for an MSP to also sit as an MP, giving Alex Salmond as an example.

Asked about recent polls which indicated the SNP is on course to win at majority in next year’s Holyrood vote, he said: “I’m absolutely in this to be first minister. No-one should enter any race for an election if they don’t think they can win.

“I know the challenge we face. No-one can be complacent with the polls, they can go down as quickly as they go up.

“So yes, we have a challenge but we have a fighting chance if we can get a leader in place quickly to take the strong, positive Scottish Conservative and Unionist message to people in every part of Scotland. ”

On Ms Davidson stepping forward from the backbenches to once again take on Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs, Mr Ross said: “We need someone who’s been there, done that and has a proven track record.

“I can’t think of anyone better than Ruth to take the fight to Nicola Sturgeon, as she has done for many years as leader.

“She’s taken the decision to step back into the front line of politics until Parliament rises for the next election.”

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson: Douglas Ross has 'vision, drive and energy' to lead Scottish Conservatives

He also reflected on previous comments he made that he would want “tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers”, if he was prime minister for a day.

Mr Ross said: “Any politician that doesn’t reflect on what they’ve said in the past and doesn’t accept they’ve made mistakes isn’t worth the job.

“I am someone that will make mistakes, has made mistakes, but I’ll learn from them.

“And I’ll be a better politician for the people of Scotland as a result of that.”

Mr Ross resigned as a Scotland Office minister in May over Mr Cummings’s efforts to defend his trip from London to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Mr Carlaw after he announced his resignation on Thursday, describing him as a “fantastic servant” to the party, but there has been speculation the Eastwood MSP was pushed out of the job.

Michelle Ballantyne, the Tory MSP for the South Scotland region who stood against Mr Carlaw in the leadership contest, said the party “did make a bad choice” in appointing him as leader, and she suggested he had been removed in a “stitch up”.

READ MORE: Jackson Carlaw quits as Scottish Conservative leader

But fellow party MSP Adam Tomkins, who is to quit Holyrood at the 2021 election, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme: “Michelle doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

“The only thing that we need to remember about Michelle is that she was beaten 75/25 in a two-horse race by Jackson Carlaw only a few months ago and I’m afraid that Michelle doesn’t speak for the party.”