By Tom Gordon

and Alastair Grant

DOUGLAS Ross will attempt to rid the Scottish Tories of a growing “defeatism” as he becomes the party’s third leader in less than a year today, despite polls indicating another SNP landslide.

The Moray MP is expected to be the sole contender for the position when nominations close at noon, automatically replacing Jackson Carlaw, who quit last week.

Mr Ross’s coronation also sees the return of former leader Ruth Davidson to the Holyrood frontline, where she will again tackle Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions.

Ms Ross and Ms Davidson yesterday said they would run as a “joint ticket” until the 2021 election, when he expects to enter Holyrood and she will move on to the House of Lords.

Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail, the pair set themselves the task of breaking through the “SNP wall” of seats next year by focusing on the party’s record on education and health, as well as by arguing against independence and for the Union.

They said: “We are passionate about wanting to see our young children grow up in a country which is optimistic, exciting and united in nature.

“Nor, unlike most ‘joint tickets’, is there any rivalry between us: we know our roles as we think we can help each other.

“And we share something else too: a genuine belief, borne of experience, that SNP rule isn’t as inevitable as some people feel, and that change at next year’s Holyrood election is eminently achievable.

“We abhor the sense of defeatism that has crept into some quarters and we want to show that the fight is there for the winning.

“Just as the SNP has broken through the ‘red wall’, our aim is to show that the SNP wall standing in the way of progress is built on sand, and is there for the taking.”

Recent polls have suggested the SNP on course to win a second outright majority next May, and the Tories set to lose MSPs, as well as steady majority support for independence - all factors which prompted senior party figures to push Mr Carlaw into quitting after less than six months in charge.

The joint ticket is similar to the one used by the SNP from 2004 to 2007 after Alex Salmond became leader for a second time while at Westminster, and Ms Sturgeon took on Labour First Minister Jack McConnell in the Holyrood chamber.

However one Tory MSP said that, unlike Mr Salmond then, Mr Ross was largely unknown to the public, and there were only a few months to the next election, not three years.

Referring to Mr Ross’s second job as a football referee, the MSP said: “The country does not know who he is.

“The biggest challenge for him will be raising his profile. But he’s as hard as nails. If you’re going to run the line at on Old Firm match in front of 50,000 fans shouting whatever at you, you develop a thick skin.”

Mr Ross, 37, entered politics as a Liberal Democrat councillor in Moray, then moved to the Conservatives and worked for the party’s Highland MSPs.

He was elected as a Highlands & Islands list MSP in 2016, but moved to Westminster at the 2017 election after defeating SNP deputy Angus Robertson in Moray.

He resigned as a Scotland Office minister in May over the Dominic Cummings affair, saying his constituents would not accept the Prime Minister’s top aide’s excuses for breaking the coronavirus lockdown.

Besides Ms Davidson’s backing, he also has endorsements from most Scottish Tory MPs and many of the party’s MSPs, including Mr Carlaw.

Mr Carlaw said: “I’m delighted that Douglas is running to succeed me. 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.”

The SNP last night withdrew an attack on Mr Ross which claimed he had a “long history of racist views”.

The party deleted the accusation from Twitter after an online backlash, although the SNP website still said he held “abhorrent views”.

The attack was based on an interview Mr Ross gave as a new MP in 2017 in which he said he would prioritise “tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers” if he was PM for a day.

He later apologised for the comment, saying he meant people who “flout local planning procedures with illegal encampments”.

Mr Ross’s spokesman said it was “disappointing that the SNP are choosing to stoop to this kind of thing. Douglas is going to remain focused on his positive message of ending the last decade of division and setting out an ambitious plan to move Scotland forward.”

The SNP said Mr Ross had “received widespread criticism for his inflammatory and divisive comments about gypsy/travellers, including from Amnesty International”.