When I interviewed Douglas Ross in his Moray heartlands two weeks ago, it seemed that he had never been more secure as leader of his party. His four years in charge had been challenging. Some in his own party simply didn’t think he was of sufficient stature to command such a job.

Neither did he seem to possess the charisma and easy charm of previous Scottish Tory leaders such as Ruth Davidson, Annabel Goldie and David McLetchie. At Holyrood where – apart from the zealots in the Scottish Greens – political rivals all rub along contentedly together, Mr Ross wasn’t regarded as ‘clubbable’.

Yet, in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the election he seemed, at last, to have imposed his will on the party. There was also a grudging acknowledgment amongst political commentators that he’d played a blinder in the events leading to Humza Yousaf’s sudden resignation as First Minister and in the excursions and alarums of the Michael Matheson expenses scandal.

That he has now resigned as leader in the wake of questions over his own expenses while he was acting as a senior assistant football referee has already caused ripples of schadenfreude to break across the SNP.


Douglas Ross to quit as Scottish Tory leader and possibly MSP

Ross facing demands to quit as MSP after shock resignation

Yet, even before that story broke his coat was on a shoogly peg. This stemmed from his bizarre decision to replace his sick colleague David Duguid as Conservative candidate for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

Having previously said he’d be giving up his dual role as MP and MSP by dropping Westminster from his personal portfolio, this would have been puzzling in normal circumstances. By stepping in quickly to replace Mr Duguid following a brutally summary process to deselect him as he continued to recover from illness appeared callous, even by the ruthless standards of internecine Tory skulduggery.

When I told one of my colleagues I’d be spending some time with Mr Ross, he’d told me that the Scottish Tory leader “had grown into the job” and was more at ease with himself and those around him than at any other time in his four-year tenure.

This was evident in the afternoon I’d spent with him. No other senior politician in Scotland would have agreed to an intensive interview with me without the presence of at least one Special Adviser. Nor was any subject off limits: his role as a football linesman; the curiosity of a working-class lad opting for the Tories and the common belief (shared by me) that his party was singularly responsible for the challenges his family had to endure while he was growing up.

He told me he’d had to receive free school meals after his dad lost his job and the family home after being laid off from his farm-worker’s job. I’d pointed out that if his party had had its way he’d have been receiving thin gruel in a poor-house. Nor did he demur when I pressed him on David Cameron’s assertion from 10 years ago that Scotland had the attributes to thrive as an independent country.

The Herald: Douglas RossDouglas Ross (Image: free)

I liked the fact that the leader of a political party still felt able to indulge his passion for football by officiating at professional matches. It said good things about him and also about Scotland.

He seemed comfortable in his own skin and was adamant that his decision to concentrate solely on Holyrood was the right one.

It was being suggested last week that Mr Ross had no option but to step in to fight David Duguid’s seat because that was the will of the local Conservative Association. I’m not buying this, though. He’d been leader for four years and his command of the party had never been stronger. This was a foolish decision.

The reactions from Scotland’s other main parties following his resignation have been predictably brutal. But no more brutal than the way in which he exploited the travails of Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson.