DOUGLAS Ross has admitted the Tories “haven’t lived up to expectations” as he pointed the finger for the Conservatives’ turmoil at Westminster for causing “profound difficulties for our party in Scotland”.

The Scottish Tories leader was speaking in Edinburgh in his first keynote speech of 2023, acknowledging he was “more than happy to put 2022 behind us”.

Last year, the Conservatives’s popularity with the pubic slumped as Boris Johnson was forced from Downing Street and then Liz Truss’s brief spell at Number 10 risked branding the party a laughing stock.

The Tories north of the Border also suffered last year, dropping into third place behind Labour in May’s local elections and polling now showing Anas Sarwar’s party as being in second place.

Mr Ross said that “last year was a difficult year for the Conservative party across the UK”, adding that “to be frank, we haven’t lived up to expectations”.

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He added: “Our focus, both as a UK and Scottish party must now be on working hard to re-earn trust. I know we face a tough challenge to do that.

“However, Rishi Sunak’s first couple of months in office have shown a return to the quiet competency that voters expect from our party.

“Decisive action has been taken to support every family with rising energy costs and our public services have been given the resources they need to offset global inflation.

"Yes, these are still early days and there is a lot more work to be done- but I believe that we have turned a corner.”

Mr Ross insisted that “Rishi Sunak is beginning to restore the Government’s reputation for competency and stability”, adding that “he can win back the support of the British people”.

But he bluntly stressed that “the political turbulence in London over the last year has had profound difficulties for our party in Scotland”.

Mr Ross added: “More often than not, we were stuck on the back foot because of events we were not involved with – instead of having the space to build our vision for Scotland’s future.

“That has been a source of great frustration for me and my party.

“Now, however, we have a welcome return to stability and we must seize this opportunity to get back to the task I set after the 2021 election – the task of building a Scotland’s real alternative to this failing SNP Government.”

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Mr Ross said his party will provide “a real alternative with the answers to tackle the big challenges our country faces today and in the years ahead”, adding that “those challenges are stark”.

He accused the SNP of making 2023 the "year of the independence campaign" instead of the focus being on key areas of government.

Mr Ross said this year "will instead see preparations for a special conference and a so-called de facto referendum", which will "take centre stage in the agenda of this government – to the detriment of everything else". 

He added: "It is clear that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are once again talking to the nationalist movement instead of delivering leadership for all of Scotland

"And we will all continue to suffer the consequences of that distraction." 

He criticised the Scottish Government’s record on health, stressing that “waiting times are spiralling, staff are overworked, and Humza Yousaf has no clue how to reverse this ever-downward trend in our NHS”.

Mr Ross also criticised the Scottish Government’s record on education, suggesting the country’s system “continues to tumble down international rankings and the attainment gap remains as wide as it has ever been”.

He added: “Our economy is forecast to lag behind the rest of the UK and hundreds of millions of pounds of public money continues to be thrown at failed interventions, such as the Ferguson ferries, Prestwick Airport and BiFab.

“We are falling behind on our environmental targets and our transport system is letting down communities in every part of our country.

“Violent crime continues to rise and progress is slow in tackling our court backlogs.

“Scotland’s most deprived communities continue to be scarred by the worst drug deaths in Europe – a fact that should shame Nicola Sturgeon.”

With Anas Sarwar’s party now a true rival for second place at Holyrood, Mr Ross took aim at Labour – suggesting the party is alligned with the SNP.

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He claimed that “Labour only offer more of the same approach taken by the SNP”, adding that “they want to raise taxes further on Scottish workers”.

Mr Ross said: “Their answer to the challenges facing our public services is always ever more spending.

“They are more comfortable attacking the UK Government for the challenges facing Scotland than the SNP who run most of our public services.

“Their top political priority is now a constitutional overhaul that will deliver more powers to Nicola Sturgeon and her government.”