DOUGLAS Ross is at the centre of a cronyism row after admitting directing thousands of pounds in public funds to a “good friend” when he was previously an MSP.

In an interview with the Herald, the Scottish Tory leader confirmed using his Holyrood expenses to pay £7,000 rent on an Edinburgh flat which was half-owned by the pal. 

Mr Ross, a part-time football linesman, was the first tenant of the £265,000 property after it was bought by fellow match official Andrew Dallas and another man in December 2016.

Had the lease run its course over the last parliament, it would have seen around £50,000 paid in rent to the landlords through expense claims.

It was only cut short by the snap general election of 2017 and Mr Ross unexpectedly defeating SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson to become the MP for Moray, which caused him to leave Holyrood.

The arrangement was permitted under the Scottish Parliament’s rules, which only ban renting from family, business partners and other MSPs, and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the landlords.


Mr Ross also denies anything untoward in leasing from a friend.

He said: “I don't think there is anything of concern, because... it was all absolutely within the Scottish Parliament guidance for renting flats.”

However other parties said the Scottish Tory leader was, like so many Tories at Westminster, now “mired" in cronyism because of the personal connection.

They also demanded to know if Mr Ross planned to resume the lease when he returned as an MSP. 

Holyrood expenses records show that after getting elected as a Highlands & Islands list MSP in May 2016, Mr Ross claimed £4,344 to stay in hotels while working at the parliament.

In January 2017, he stopped claiming hotels and starting claiming rent on a flat in a new-build property at the Allanfield complex near Easter Road.

The public records show the money went to Mr Dallas and another man who had jointly bought the property in December 2016.  

The arrangement, which also saw Mr Ross claim £1,255 for council tax on the Band E flat, led to a £1000 rental deposit and £7000 in rent going to the landlords.

It ended in July 2017 after Mr Ross was elected the MP for Moray and quit Holyrood. 

Mr Ross confirmed he was the landlords’ first tenant, and described Mr Dallas, son of legendary Scots referee Hugh Dallas, as a “good friend and refereeing colleague”.

He told the Herald he did not know the other man who jointly owns the flat with Mr Dallas.


Asked if he considered the arrangement cronyism, Mr Ross said: “No. It was all within the rules.

"That was a flat that was rented at the value that was well within the budget of the Scottish Parliament.

"I was made aware of the opportunity to rent that flat in the usual way.

“It was either that or stay in a hotel for several nights a week when I come down to Edinburgh, and I took an opportunity to rent a flat that was absolutely and fully within the guidance that the Scottish Parliament sets out.”

Asked, in light of the slew of allegations about Tory cronyism and ethics breaches at Westminster, if he still considered it had been wise to rent from a friend, Mr Ross said: “What I'm saying is that was all fully declared in the year that I was an MSP and no one raised concerns.

"I knew Andrew Dallas back at that time, I still know him now. 

“I rented a flat in accordance with the guidance set out by the Scottish Parliament, within their limits of renting accommodation, and everything was fully detailed and outlined, and complied with what was asked of MSPs at the time that I was renting the property.”

In the latest leader interviews with the Herald, Mr Ross also said he expected the Scottish Tories to remain the second largest party at Holyrood after May 6.

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Besides driving home the message to vote Tory on the regional list, Mr Ross said the party was hoping to pick up some SNP-held constituencies, including that of cabinet secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who is standing down in her Perthshire seat.

Despite the steam of controversies emerging from Downing Street in recent days, Mr Ross refused to accept Boris Johnson was a burden to him as leader, and said voters gave him credit for taking key decisions on the Covid vaccine and financial support through lockdown. 

Mr Ross praised his predecessor Ruth Davidson for her part in the campaign, saying it would be “crazy” and a failure of his duty as leader not to use her when the Union was at stake. 

However asked if the same could be said of Mr Johnson, who is not campaigning in Scotland, Mr Ross was less enthusiastic. 

He said: “The Prime Minister is clear that this is my campaign up here, and I campaign on our manifesto with my team. 

"Ruth is still a member of the Scottish Parliament representing Edinburgh Central until election day, so it's right that she plays a big role in this campaign.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "There is a stench of sleaze and cronyism from every part of the Tory party, and now the Scottish Tory leader himself is mired in it.

"Douglas Ross wants us to believe that of all the flats he could have rented in Edinburgh he just so happens to have chosen one owned by one of his friends.

"On May 6th the people of Scotland face a choice of whether to put Scotland's future into the hands of the sleaze-ridden Tories or into its own hands by re-electing Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister with Both Votes SNP."

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Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said: “The stench of sleaze surrounding the Tories increases day by day. This revelation risks further eroding trust in politics, and once again allows the SNP to dodge questions about its own behaviour by pointing the finger at the Tories.

“We can’t have cronyism rows overshadowing the urgent need for a national recovery, which is why Scotland deserves a better opposition and a better government.”

Sheila Ritchie, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Moray, added: "Douglas Ross is right on the edge of straying offside.

"I understand the importance of parliamentarians securing appropriate accommodation but with the Conservatives already mired in another round of allegations over sleaziness and cronyism, it's disappointing to hear that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives chose to pick a flat that funnelled money to his mate.

"Given that he intends to return as an MSP after the election, he should tell the public whether he intends to resume this arrangement."

A Tory source noted SNP minister Mairi Gougeon has rented a flat from former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale since last year.

Mr Dallas was asked for comment. 

READ MORE: 'Voting Yes could mean years of tax rises and budget cuts' says thinktank report

Mr Ross will today warn the SNP, the Scottish Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party are intent on “hijacking” the next parliament to advance independence, threatening the economic recovery.

Speaking by the border with England, he will urge pro-UK voters, including those who have never voted Tory, to back his party on the regional ballots "just this once". 

He is expected to say: “We have only seven days left to save Scotland’s recovery.

“If we do not address the threat next Thursday, the SNP will have a green light to charge ahead with a hard border, just a few hundred yards from where I stand. 

"The very future of our country is at stake – and you need to vote for the future you want to see.

“They may be on track to win full control of our Parliament right now, but that outcome is not inevitable. 

"Another referendum is not inevitable. The only way to stop a second independence referendum is using your party list vote for the Scottish Conservatives.

“Even if you have never supported our party before. Even if it’s just this once. Even if you never consider yourself a Conservative.”