This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

For a Westminster election campaign launch there wasn’t a huge amount of Westminster.

For much of his 20 minute speech, Douglas Ross spoke about the “failure of 17 years of SNP Government”.

There was time to talk about the state of Scotland’s schools, the A9, the ferry fiasco, NHS waits, Michael Matheson – lots of time for Michael Matheson – and, of course, the constitution. 

But there was no mention of either of the big policies already unveiled by CCHQ in London. 

On National Service, the Prime Minister’s big plan to force 18-year-olds to either enlist in a year-long military training scheme or complete a community programme over a 12-month period, there was nothing. 

And again, on the Triple Lock Plus, the promise to raise the tax-free pension allowance to make sure pensioners never pay tax, nada.

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Not only that but there was only one mention of Labour in the speech – and it was in a section about Micahel Matheson.

“If this had happened at Westminster, if a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat MP had been found to have done the same, then John Swinney would rightly have said they should go,” Mr Ross said. 

Which is a good point, but what about why he thinks Sir Keir Starmer shouldn't be prime minister? What about his concerns over Labour’s offer to voters north of the border?

It was almost like a launch event for a different party. 

When he was pushed on this by journalists, Mr Ross said it was because Scottish Tory MPs would be focused on “local priorities”.

“These are issues that come up on the doorstep day in day out,” he insisted. 

The Herald:
Though a jarring approach to a general election, it is in many ways completely understandable. 

The Tories south of the border are in a terrible state, and it probably makes sense to keep some distance.  And the fight for his party up here is not with Labour. It is with the SNP. 

And it’s a close fight. 

The Tories won six MPs at the last election, up in the north east and in the south of Scotland. 

In each, it is the SNP who are in second place. 

When I spoke to pollster Mark Diffley about this last week, he told me the races were too close to call. 

“Both those parties are losing significant amounts of support,” he said. 

Most Scottish polls put the Tories down about 10 points on where they were in 2019, but because the SNP votes are also falling, Douglas Ross may still end up with six MPs.

Had Labour been in second place in any of these Tory seats, Mr Diffley added, then the result might not be so clear.

Mr Ross’s strategy is not massively different to Mr Sunak’s.

It’s about energising the core vote. It’s a strategy that Jackson Carlaw tried in 2019.

He did not have a good election. The party in Scotland went from having 13 MPs to six, while the result in the rest of the UK saw Boris Johnson returning to Downing Street with his party’s biggest majority at Westminster since Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1987.

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Will the gamble work for Mr Ross? And what if it doesn’t?

Seven months after that poor result, Jackson Carlaw was out. 

Though to be fair, one month after that election result, he stood for the leadership and won convincingly. 

But my point still stands. Probably. Just about. It’s going to be tough and with the campaign for the 2026 Holyrood election starting on July 5, the Scottish Tories are going to want someone who can enthuse their voters and their members. Is that Douglas Ross?

As I was leaving the campaign launch to catch the train on Tuesday morning, a Herald reader came up to me. 

“I was there,” she said. “I’m a Tory supporter. I wish they would replace him.”

Who? Douglas? I asked.


Not a fan?

“No, not a fan. Not a fan.”

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What do you think they should do, I asked her? 

“Put in Luke Graham,” she replied. “Luke Graham’s marvellous. His enthusiasm is there. He’s very weak, Douglas Ross, I think. Very weak. 

“I like him as a person but he doesn’t have that extra…” she trailed off. 

“And he concentrated too much on Matheson. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. He should have gone into Labour.” 

Douglas Ross has had some successes in recent months – notably his role in Humza Yousaf’s downfall – but if you can’t inspire your activists then you might be in trouble.