DOUGLAS Ross has stressed that Downing Street had no influence over his decision to seek the Scottish Conservative leadership – as he formally launched his bid to replace Jackson Carlaw.

Mr Ross confirmed he will stay on as MP for Moray if he is successful in his leadership campaign and will seek a seat at next year’s Holyrood election in order to take a place in the Scottish Parliament.

In the meantime, former Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, will deputise for him at First Minister’s Questions, if his bid is successful.

Ms Davidson said she was “delighted" to back Mr Ross's bid to seize control of the party.

She added: “He has the vision, drive and energy to take our party forward.”

Mr Ross must tally up 100 valid nominations in order to successfully be put forward for the role – with selection to become the new leader closing at 12pm on August 5.

The 37-year-old, who will continue to be an assistant referee in his spare time, is vying to replace Mr Carlaw after his quit on Thursday after less than six months in the job.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross formally announces Scottish Conservative leadership bid

In an appeal to Tory members, Mr Ross said that if he becomes leader, protecting the union will be “an absolute priority” for him.

He added: “I want us to show clearly to everyone in Scotland, no matter where they live or who they are, that if they want to move on from the divisions of the past and focus on the issues that really matter – a strong economy, good schools, safe streets and a world-leading NHS, then the Scottish Conservatives will be their voice.

“Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that’s a relationship I want to maintain and improve.”

The Moray MP quit Boris Johnson’s Cabinet in May, leaving his junior minister post at the Scotland office in protest after the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, flouted lockdown rules during a visit to Durham.

But Mr Ross stressed that he had been urged by colleagues to run for the leadership and insisted that Downing Street and Mr Cummings were “absolutely not” involved in his decision to stand.

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.”

READ MORE: Jackson Carlaw quits as Scottish Conservative leader

Asked about recent polls which indicate the SNP is on course to win a big majority in next year’s Holyrood election, he said he was “absolutely in this to be first minister”, believing his party has a “fighting chance” if a new leader is in post quickly.

He added: “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.”

Mr Carlaw, who stepped aside to allow someone else to “make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the Union better than me”, has endorsed Mr Ross’ bid to replace him.

He said: “I’ve known Douglas all his political life and he is exactly the candidate with the energy to lead that I had in mind.

“Our party should unite behind him and back him all the way.”

Right-wing Tory MSP, Michelle Ballantyne, who failed in her leadership bid at the hands of Mr Carlaw, has also backed Mr Ross – ending speculation she could attempt another bid for the job.

Speaking after Mr Carlaw’s resignation, the South of Scotland MSP said she was “happy he’s gone”, insisting she “never thought he was the right person”.

Ms Ballantyne added: “Douglas Ross has a track record of standing up to the nationalists and I am delighted to give him my backing for the Scottish Conservative leadership.”

But Mr Ross faces questions over previous comments he has made that he would want “tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers”, if he was prime minister for a day.

He 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.”