DOUGLAS Ross’s leadership of the Scottish Tories has been dealt an early blow with one of his MSPs quitting the party over differences on policies and “principles”.

Brexiteer Michelle Ballantyne said she was resigning from the party because she no longer felt she was a “good fit” for it.

The Tory group at Holyrood now shrinks from 31 to 30, with the number of female Tory MSPs down to just six.

The South of Scotland MSP, a former Tory social security spokesperson at Holyrood, stood against Jackson Carlaw for the Scottish Tory leadership in 2019. 

In a statement, she said she had come to her decision in the wake of Mr Ross’s party conference speech in which he berated Westminster colleagues for neglecting the Union.

Mr Ross's support of free university tuition and increased benefit payments is also understood to be a sore spot for Ms Ballantyne. 

She will now sit at Holyrood as an independent until next May’s elections alongside disgraced former SNP MSPs Derek Mackay and Mark McDonald.  

An early and avid supporter of Boris Johnson and Brexit, it is understood she was uncomfortable with Mr Ross's recent criticism of the PM and Brexit as factors driving support for independence.

As a Borders MSP, she is also thought to have been unhappy at Mr Ross's acceptance of travel restrictions over Covid, an issue that saw another rural MSP, Oliver Mundell, quit the Tory frontbench.

Frequently controversial - in 2018 she was widely criticised for saying "people on benefit cannot have as many children as they like" - Mr Ross may well be relieved at her exit.

Ms Ballantyne said: “It is with great sadness that I have decided to resign today from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

“That said, I recognise and respect the work Douglas, Ruth, and their team are putting in to re-shape the future of the Scottish Conservatives and the Party’s position going forward. 

“However, as Douglas indicated in his address to our party conference, there are differences arising for some in the Party’s positioning on policy and, indeed, its principles. Sadly, for me, this means I no longer feel that the Party and I are a good fit.

“I have not taken this decision lightly and I wish both Douglas and Ruth, as well as all my colleagues, the very best going forward.

”I’m looking forward to continuing to represent my constituents across South Scotland as an independent MSP and champion local issues at Holyrood. 

“While I may be leaving the Scottish Conservatives, I am not leaving the Scottish Parliament and my door remains open, as always, to my constituents.”  

In a joint statement, Mr Ross and Holyrood group leader Ruth Davidson said: “We would both like to thank Michelle for her service to the Scottish Conservatives down the years.

 “As well as her time on Scottish Borders Council and in the Parliament, she has also been an active member of the voluntary party. We wish her well for the future.”

SNP MSP George Adam said: "Six months out from an election and the Scottish Tories are in crisis. 

"In the space of a week, two prominent members of Baroness Davidson's frontbench at Holyrood have resigned. 

"With Boris Johnson the captain, it's no wonder that so many are jumping from this sinking Tory ship."