LIKE a flailing pugilist landing a wild haymaker to unify two of the most underwhelming title belts of all time, Douglas Ross emerged triumphant this week in his bid to become Scotland’s most objectively unpopular man. Tory leader and football referee.

For years a figure of controversy – and mirth – in Scottish football as a politician who runs the line in Premiership games of a weekend, the Moray MP was elected Leader of the Scottish Conservatives on Tuesday, replacing Jackson Carlaw, but insists he intends to continue picking up a paycheck from the SFA as a top-flight assistant referee.

The hero in this story would admittedly be one of Marvel’s lesser Avengers. A mild-mannered key cog of Parliament by day, come Sunday Ross will again slip into a phonebox outside Ibrox to emerge as The Lino, with lungs of steel, impenetrable skin and the mental fortitude to block out howls of complaint from each set of players.

Why Ross is so determined to fight on against our game’s dark forces armed only with a chequered flag remains a mystery – although he did pick up £15,000 last year doing so – especially with so much now on his to-do list.

That said, as extra-curricular activities go for politicians, this one is fairly sedate.

Of course, everyone needs a way to unwind. After a long week of the media, pundits and the public forensically scrutinising your smallest decisions and calling for your head every time you make an error, maybe officiating Rangers v St Mirren sounds like the perfect way to relax. I’d possibly suggest a less harrowing hobby – self-immolation? Golf?


In an interview with The Times yesterday, Ross defended the pastime as a way to relieve pressure, comparing it to hillwalking. I would agree climbing Ben Lomond is an enjoyable undertaking. But it would surely be less so with thousands of drunken munro enthusiasts lining the hills, hurling abuse at you for your flimsy footwear and chanting about your poor route selection.

Scottish second officials pick up around £435 a match from the SFA at the top level, a tidy sum for 90 minutes’ work, although chump change next to the £79,468 basic annual salary for an MP (before expenses for office, employees, accommodation and travel allowance). Surely, especially in These Unprecedented Times post-Covid, a well-remunerated political leader can’t justify occupying a role in which someone else could be making a decent living?

To be clear, I am not suggesting Ross does not have the capacity for both jobs. Obviously, there may be accusations from the stands if, at Ibrox on Sunday, Jon Obika springs past the Rangers backline a little too fast for belief and fans don’t trust him implicitly to make the call without Scotland’s key issues on his mind. Maybe he’s more worried about how to hold Nicola Sturgeon to account at First Minister’s Questions, but I don’t buy it.

Equally, I don’t think he’ll fluff his lines in a debate because he’s been fretting over whether or not Lyndon Dykes handballed on Saturday. He will likely conduct himself professionally in both roles, despite his split focus, but it all comes down to perspective.

And if the perspective from the stands isn’t great, the view from Holyrood isn’t much better. Ross has a responsibility to the country and although of course a seven-day working week isn’t feasible or desirable, his commitment has come into question in the past.

The 37-year-old was already under some intense pressure to hang up his flag before his recent promotion, and had previously promised to cut back on refereeing appointments.

His second job is often used in political circles as a stick to beat him with, and perhaps for good reason. Infamously in December 2017, Ross skipped a debate and voting on Universal Credit to referee Lionel Messi and Co in a Champions League game against Olympiacos in Barcelona. Although this was a few years ago, the gig paid around £2000 and represents a clear example of a time when his whistleblowing role impinged upon his duty to the Scottish public.


There is also a murky component to the leader of a political party remaining on the payroll of our national game’s authority. Although likely an inane entanglement, both parties would benefit from a conscious uncoupling.

Ross has risen to the top of the part-time profession in this country after decades of hard work and honing his craft, evidenced by his call-ups for games in Europe and domestic cup finals. But his new position and a move back to Holyrood is the ideal opportunity to step away from the game, albeit overdue.

If Ross is to continue to run the rule over offside decisions at an elite level in his spare time, can I suggest he at least takes advantage of an open goal PR-wise and donates his match fees back into the grassroots of the game? If that still sticks in the craw for the taxpayer, then better yet, he could drop a few levels and preside over Highland League matches. He would still enjoy the health benefits, relieve pressure from the day job, and maybe even reconnect with some of his local constituents in the crowd.

There’s a thin line between enjoying a hobby and indulging greed in this case, and for now Douglas Ross continues to run up and down it, waving his flag.