RUTH Davidson has backed Rishi Sunak in the race to be the next Tory leader and Prime Minister, saying he has a “first-rate intellect”.

The former Scottish Tory leader said the former Chancellor would bring “professionalism and seriousness of purpose” to the role. 

In contrast, she suggested Foreign Secretary Liz Truss would be a “gamble”.

Ms Davidson consistently backed the losing candidate in the 2019 Tory leadership contest.

After initially backing Sajid Javid before he was eliminated, she switched her support to Michael Gove, then finally endorsed Jeremy Hunt.

The common theme was picking people other than Boris Johnson, whose Leave position she opposed during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Baroness Davidson’s open support for Mr Sunak contrasts with current Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross’s decision to hedge his bets and refuse to say who he wants to win the contest and replace Mr Johnson.

Tory MPs yesterday narrowed the field down to Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, with around 160,000 Tory members across the UK now getting to pick the winner.

The next party leader and PM will be announced on September 5.

Baroness Davidson, who stood down from her job at Holyrood in 2019, declared her support for Mr Sunak in an article in today’s Daily Telegraph headlined: “This is no time to gamble. That’s why Rishi Sunak has my vote to be next PM.”

Praising his intellect, she wrote: “He’s not just a numbers man – although let me tell you how vanishingly rare it is in the Commons to have someone who really understands fiscal matters and can shape the weather, rather than just commentate on it.

““He also brings professionalism and seriousness of purpose which will, I contend, be of huge help to those charged with steering the ship of state under his captaincy, and be a welcome relief after the sometimes chaotic juggernaut of the departing Prime Minister (however effective such chaos might be on any given issue).”

Charisma, according to Baroness Davidson, is required to “inspire a following”, but she added that some degree of “boring managerialism” is needed in government.

“Rishi Sunak can do both - inspire an audience and get things running effectively,” she said.

"Now is not the time to gamble with the nation’s bank balance."

She also praised the former chancellor’s work in the Treasury during the pandemic, saying he “charted a steady course through Covid”.

She defended Mr Sunak against criticism levelled at him over the past 12 months, including over the tax status of his wife and his police fine for attending a No10 party during lockdown.

On Ms Truss, Baroness Davidson wrote: “For someone at the ‘wetter’ end of the Tory spectrum, the prospect of Liz Truss – a female, Remain-voting former Lib Dem – entering Downing street ticks a lot of boxes.

“However, I see the huge economic forces buffeting our country and hitting the British people in their pockets, and I know – to the marrow of my bones -  that my job in this election is to pick the person best placed to steer us through those choppy economic waters.

“So, for me, it has to be Rishi Sunak.”

She later issued a warning to both sides in the contest in the interest of party unity.

“Let’s cut out the blue-on-blue [attacks], it’s not edifying,” she told Times Radio.

“Yes, have a clash of ideas, yes – absolutely – make sure that we get our debate out into the open. The country deserves it, the members deserve it, the voters deserve it.

“But let’s keep it clean. When the dust settles, we’re all on the same team.”

“We all have to make sure that we’re steering the good ship Britain to the best of our abilities and we all have to work with each other.”

The SNP said Mr Ross was guilty of either “cowardice or contempt for Scottish voters” for refusing to say who he was backing for Prime Minister.

MSP Paul McLennan said: “The unfortunate Douglas Ross has once again demonstrated a complete absence of leadership qualities. He is too weak to say which of the candidates in the run-off would be the least bad for Scotland. He will do whatever the next UK Tory leader demands and instead of standing up for Scotland he is once again protecting the Tory party.

“We know he shot himself in both feet with his flip-flopping over Boris Johnson continuing his chaotic leadership, but it is now cowardice or contempt for Scottish voters if he simply won’t say who he prefers.

“As an MP, Ross voted in the five previous rounds before now so his refusal to declare his choice is untenable. In the interests of openness and transparency, he must say who he voted for at each stage.

“If he won’t say, is it because he knows that every one of the original candidates – including the final two – will be another disastrous Prime Minister who will inflict untold damage on the people of Scotland?”