IT’S the start of the General Election campaign and Douglas Ross is rehearsing future attack options. We discuss the SNP Government’s broken promises over upgrading the A9 and the A96, the spinal cords providing all connectivity in the north-east and Highlands. He cites the failure of government – heavily biased in favour of the central belt – to appreciate Scotland’s rural economy.  

All that can wait, though. I’ll have no better opportunity to obtain an honest answer to the question that’s been loitering at the back of my mind since April, 2018: what about that red card against Jozo Simunovic in the Glasgow derby at Ibrox, Douglas?  

Mr Ross was the assistant referee during this tense game and I can still see him thrusting his flag into the air and yelling: “Red Card! Red Card!” following an admittedly boisterous challenge by Celtic’s Croatian defender. Mr Ross seemed rather too enthusiastic in this action though, and my Celtic paranoia has simmered ever since.  

Simunovic was duly sent packing by the referee and Celtic’s title hopes seemed to hang in the balance. “You’d think there had been a murder the way you were gesticulating and yelling,” I tell him. Such is the noise and fury of these games that the referee had instructed his assistants to be loud and clear about calling the big decisions, he tells me. I feel slightly more mollified now, and besides: the ‘Tic still won 3-2. 

For a Tory politician an authentic working-class back story ought to be an asset. This doesn’t always work in Scotland, though. An element of class treachery creeps in.  

In the Holyrood debating chamber, Mr Ross can come across as the school swot who tells the teacher about you smoking behind the toilets. Yet he is fluent and eloquent on his feet. He honed his speaking skills at national debating contests in the Young Farmers Movement.  

In 1997 he’d stood for the Lib-Dems in a mock election at Forres Academy where he won convincingly. “The Tories weren’t having a good time of it then and I didn’t want to go for the easy option of Tony Blair’s New Labour. But I liked Paddy Ashdown, then leader of the Lib-Dems. My mum still has the school notice of my election win. But though, I campaigned for them for a time I found my values didn’t really align with theirs.” 

It’s only when you drive for a few hours on the A9 from Perth to Inverness and then the A96 that you come to realise why they’re prone to fatal accidents. When you’re on a tight schedule the temptation to take risks when you’re stuck behind farm vehicles or large lorries, is great. “We’ve got distilleries throughout this region,” he says “and large plants like Baxter’s and Walkers shortbread.  


“Their operations are crucial to the Highland economy and that means lots of large vehicles. The SNP have been promising to duel these roads for more than a decade. They wouldn’t get away with it in the central belt.” 

We approach a point on the A96 near Keith, known as the Dramlachs and Mr Ross recalls the scariest and most emotional moments of his life. “My wife was in labour with our second son, James and it was clear she was encountering difficulties.  

“I thought we were on a green pathway so that the birth could be at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin, but the maternity service there had been downgraded, so she had to be blue-lighted in an ambulance from Elgin to Aberdeen. 

“So, I’m driving along not knowing what’s happening in the ambulance behind, but had been told to keep my phone on in case they have to pull over and deliver the baby at the side of the road.  

“When I came to The Dramlachs between Fochabers and Keith, I hadn’t yet seen the ambulance appear behind me and began to panic. I’m wondering if they’ve had to stop because of an emergency birth. It was at this point the blue flashing lights appeared and all was well. I’m not an emotional person, and it was still an hour’s drive to the hospital, but knowing the ambulance was just up ahead gave me an overwhelming sense of relief.  

“However, for the last five years expectant mothers in this region have had to make the same journey, often at the height of winter when the roads are almost impassable because there’s no local maternity unit.”  

His commitment to the people of this region is absolute and there was no question of him being parachuted into a safe seat further south or in England.  

“I couldn’t take a seat where I had no links to the local community, even if that meant remaining as a local councillor.” But after defeating Angus Robertson in 2017 and being re-elected in 2019 he became a minister at the Scotland Office. “I’m proud of all the levels I’ve been elected at,” he says.  

“Churchill and many other great orators had spoken from that despatch box and now this young lad from a farm outside Forres had been given the opportunity to speak on behalf of people across Scotland. I’ll be the last MP to represent Moray before it’s swallowed up. I understand I have many detractors both locally and nationally, but I know I’ve done my very best for these communities.” 

He’s also proud of the role he and Alister Jack played by invoking a Section 35 to prevent Nicola Sturgeon imposing self-ID on Scotland’s women. “Everything that’s happened since shows that we were right to do this,” he says.  

“Sturgeon didn’t like being challenged on it and I was only party leader who could question her about gender. It was a similar situation for the Hate Crime Bill.” 

Thus, he can say with some justification that on some of Holyrood’s most controversial pieces of legislation it was only the Scottish Tories who were attuned to the public mood and providing scrutiny of them on their behalf, something that the SNP and Labour were seeking to block.  

“Joanna Cherry and I agree on almost nothing,” he says, “but she’s an authentic and powerful voice on these issues and many others, often on the opposite side of where I stand. I couldn’t believe the way the SNP treated her. It’s incredible that she was a lone voice within the SNP.” 

Would he be happy to form a coalition with Labour and the Lib-Dems to oust the SNP in 2026? 

“In 2021 on the day Alex Salmond announced the formation of Alba and started talking about an independence super-majority I wrote to Willie Rennie and Anas Sarwar, suggesting that if there was to be a nationalist coalition we needed to work together to stop that and put our political differences in other areas aside so that we could park independence and focus instead on delivering good governance. They both rejected it outright.”  

You get the sense though, that faced with the beguiling prospect of getting the keys to Bute House, Mr Sarwar would bite the Scottish Tories’ hands off. His London bosses are already being fitted out for the Tories old clothes.