The greatest temptation for the Speaker in the House of Commons is to be a “character”. To project a persona, perhaps to gain a degree of sympathy when there is disruption.

John Bercow, who spent an effervescent spell in the Commons chair, was wont to deploy exaggerated tones when calling the names of selected contributors.

Perhaps his best, as I recall, was when inviting a certain Tory from the north-east of Scotland to address fellow MPs.

“I call David Jooo-git!”, he would declaim, like an 18th-century thespian drooling over a particularly tasty line from Sheridan (who incidentally sat in the Commons as an Anglo-Irish Whig.) David who was that again? It was, of course, David Duguid. Speaker Bercow was using the correct north-east or Doric pronunciation, as expounded by the glorious Aberdonian comedy trio, “Scotland the What?”

The said Duguid was a respected MP and Minister, known to be rooted in his north-east redoubt. Now, his succession has embroiled the Tories in a School for Scandal.


Election: Forget the fog of comfort. This vote involves tough choices

Scotland's election: why Scottish issues really do matter in this vote

I chanced to be in the Garden Lobby at Holyrood on Thursday morning. Learning that Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, was to make an election announcement, I presumed that the Tories were, in effect, to impose a candidate in the seat involuntarily vacated by Mr Duguid. That is Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

Turns out I was right. Mr Ross had looked at the options and, after exhaustive examination, had concluded that the perfect choice for the seat was…..Ross, D. He had decided, as he put it, to “lead from the front.”

Naturally, I immediately discussed these developments with passing Tories. Herewith my findings.

There are two distinct charges aimed at Douglas Ross. One, that he or the party ousted Mr Duguid unfairly in order to create a convenient vacancy for the leader.

Two, that it is unwise, politically, for Mr Ross to take on this particular challenge when he promised that he would give up membership of the Commons in order to focus upon Holyrood.

Let us take these one by one. Mr Duguid has been very ill, receiving hospital treatment. He is, however, adamant that he wanted to continue as candidate and, he would hope, MP, while conceding that his capacity to campaign would have been limited.

There is evident sympathy in the constituency. The Herald disclosed “outrage” among Tory activists. The talk was of a good man brought down.

I have to report that is not the conclusion of most MSPs to whom I spoke. They evince substantial empathy for Mr Duguid, whom they like and admire.

But they believe, on balance, that the Conservative Management Board called it correctly when they concluded, on Wednesday, that Mr Duguid was not in a fit condition to proceed.

David DuguidDavid Duguid (Image: free)

The common view I encountered was that the party had a duty of care to Mr Duguid – which prevailed despite his understandable determination.

Further, of course, there is a political calculation. Would it be sensible to fight a tough local battle with an ailing candidate? Would he be able to carry out Commons and constituency duties, if returned? And when?

Brutal, I know, but the opinion I encountered was that it was right to advise Mr Duguid that he was no longer to be put forward for adoption as the constituency candidate. To repeat, regardless of his views.

That, therefore, the removal of Mr Duguid was not the result of a malicious or self-seeking intervention by Douglas Ross.

Which brings me to the second charge. Is this decision by the party leader politically astute? Or otherwise?

To be clear, I believe that Douglas Ross himself knows it does not look good. He has only just given up his Commons seat in Moray. He was supposed to be sticking to a single Parliament, the one at the foot of the Royal Mile.

I think his defence would be that this was an emergency. That the nomination had to be in by Friday, that the Tories have to fight hard to defend their six Commons seats in Scotland, that the new constituency he will contest contains a fair chunk of his old Moray base.

In the Garden Lobby, the Tories hear all of that. And still they shake their head. Mr Ross has, frankly, not convinced his Holyrood colleagues that this is a strategically smart move.

As the news broke, I contacted the Scottish Conservative Party with four questions.

They were these. Is Douglas standing down from his Holyrood seat? Will he do so if elected as an MP?

Is he standing down as leader? Will he do so if elected as an MP?

The answer was No to all four. He intends to persist with a dual mandate, if elected. He intends to lead the Scottish Tories into the next Holyrood election in 2026.

That is where my Garden Lobby interlocutors see problems. Say he wins the Commons seat. Will he not then be under pressure to Pick a Parliament? To choose where his duty lies? To relinquish his Holyrood list seat – and thus the leadership?


David Duguid denies 'ill-health' claim in Douglas Ross replacement row

FM 'genuinely disgusted' by Tory treatment of David Duguid

Alternatively, say he loses the Commons contest to the SNP. Can he continue credibly as the party leader at Holyrood – when he has just demonstrably lost out to the SNP, his principal target of attack?

The dichotomy was on display as soon as he rose in the chamber. He asked about oil and gas licences. Were we hearing this from a putative First Minister – or from a would-be north-east MP? Could the real Douglas Ross stand up please?

Kate Forbes, the deputy First Minister, did not miss. She instantly accused Mr Ross of “betraying” his colleague for self-advancement.

To be quite clear, again, that accusation is not commonly heard from Tory MSPs. They say the party – and Mr Duguid – were in an exceptionally difficult position. They are inclined to exculpate Mr Ross on that particular charge.

There is a degree of sympathy. One acknowledged that Mr Ross, a former UK Minister, could not resist “the lure of the Imperial Parliament”. Another said he genuinely thought he was tackling an emergency.

But the overall verdict from the blue corner in the Garden Lobby? A tactical blunder.