A FORMER Labour special adviser has reportedly been hired by the Scottish Conservatives amid an exodus of Douglas Ross’s senior backroom staff.

Craig Paterson, who was a senior policy adviser to for Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has been recruited ahead of the departure of aides including Jon Novakovic, chief of staff to the Tory leader north of the border.

Mr Ross revealed in an email to staff that Mr Novakovic, a former Australian political adviser whose last job before the Conservatives was for Mercy Corps on humanitarian aid delivery, will step down at the end of October, according to a report in The Times today.

Mr Novakovic, who has worked in conflict zones including Afghanistan, Syria and Nigeria, was seen as the driving force behind a strategy to expand the Tories’ support base in Scotland through innovative policy ideas.

David Bateman, director of communications, and Harley Lothian, head of digital, will leave almost immediately after the UK party conference in two weeks’ time.

They are starting a digital communications company called Peach Partners, but their departures have raised eyebrows among some MSPs.

As part of the bid to replace the departing or departed backroom team, Mr Ross announced two new recruits including Mr Paterson, who will start on September 26. 

“Craig arrives with extensive knowledge of Scottish politics, having once been a key part of Scottish Labour’s operations,” Mr Ross said in the note.

Mr Ross also said that Steven McGinty, a former market intelligence analyst with the James Fisher Group in the oil and gas industry, will join the party’s research team on October 17.

Elliot Roy, a former No 10 and Scotland Office adviser, will be promoted to run the political research unit as political director while Barry Graham will remain in his post as head of media and become the most senior member of staff dealing with the press.

According to the note, a new chief of staff and head of digital would be hired “shortly”, although no timetable was put on the appointment.

The Scottish Conservatives won their largest ever number of votes in last year’s Holyrood election and senior party figures have said that they wanted to expand the party’s potential pool of supporters rather than rely on a base motivated almost entirely by unionism.

However, Labour overtook the Tories to claim second place in May’s council elections and a gap is opening up at a UK-level between the two parties that could impact on Conservative fortunes in Scotland in any general election.