Douglas Ross has held secret talks with frustrated SNP rebels about the “direction of their government” – hoping it could lead to the downfall of Humza Yousaf’s coalition with the Scottish Greens.

The Scottish Conservative leader has suggested that “a number” of disgruntled SNP backbenchers have spoken to him about “ways that parliament can” hold the Scottish Government to account.

Although Mr Ross refused to say which SNP MSPs had held talks with him, he singled out Kate Forbes for particular praise for criticising the Scottish Government.

Dissent has become par for the course within the SNP group of MSPs at Holyrood since the stark gender recognition reforms debate which saw seven politicians break the party whip – the biggest even Holyrood rebellion within the party.

Ms Forbes also used the launch of her unsuccessful leadership campaign to aim stinging criticism of the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme and treatment of businesses, while still Nicola Sturgeon’s finance secretary.

Speaking to The Herald, Ms Forbes accused the Scottish Government of neglecting the Highlands and warned that education reforms could further exacerbate the attainment gap.

Read more: Kate Forbes says Holyrood is letting down the Highlands

Fergus Ewing has been suspended by the party for one week for repeatedly speaking out against government policy and voting against it in a motion of confidence in Greens minister Loran Slater, subject to an appeal he has pledged to launch.

Speaking after his disciplinary hearing, Mr Ewing was supported by Ms Forbes, his sister Annabelle Ewing and SNP MSP Christine Grahame.

Speaking at the Conservative conference in Manchester, Mr Ross said: “I have spoken to members of the SNP who have raised concerns with me about the direction of their government and would look at ways that parliament can hold the SNP to account.

“That clearly shows a frustration with some members of the current governing party in Scotland at the moment, that their own leadership is not listening to them.”

Mr Ross suggested that his party and the SNP rebels could team up and plot to end the coalition between Mr Yousaf's government and the Scottish Greens.

Read more: Scots Tory boss Hoy refuses to condemn Braverman's 'grotesque' remarks

He said: "I’ve made it very clear, if I can see there is an opportunity to have a vote in the Scottish Parliament to end the Bute House Agreement, then I hope some of these dissenting voices in the SNP would get behind that and vote the Greens out of office." 

Bringing up Ms Forbes’s interventions, the Scottish Tory leader said that “Kate Forbes and others…have raised serious concerns about the SNP leadership and the direction of this Scottish Government”.

But he warned that the rebels “have to ultimately decide what is more important”, adding “is it backing Humza Yousaf and the SNP to continue being in office to agitate for independence at every opportunity” or whether it is “standing up for their constituents who even the SNP can see they’ve been let down by the SNP after 16 years in power”.

Mr Ross declined to reveal which MSPs had approached him or say how many had who had raised concerns.

But he added: “I am saying I have been contacted and I have had discussions with backbench members of the SNP.”

Read more: Scottish Conservatives aim to double tally of MPs at general election

Asked what the MSPs were looking for in approaching him, Mr Ross said: “They’ve come to me and we’ve had this discussion and I think it just shows that what I’ve been articulating here at the Conservative Party Conference about the areas of Scotland that have been forgotten by the SNP is clear not just to me, but members of the SNP.

“But they’ve got to make that choice. At the moment, largely they are still backing Humza Yousaf and his SNP Green Government.”

Asked if he could see the rebels bring down the SNP-Green coalition at Holyrood, Mr Ross said: “I hope so because the Green SNP coalition has been one of the worst things for Scotland.”

The SNP has been contacted for comment.