A new party leader but what does Douglas Ross stand for?

What does the Moray MP stand for? What are his big ideas? How does he intend to maximise support for the Tory cause?

At the Scottish Tory Conference many years ago, a very young man made a contribution from the floor. It wasn’t quite shades of William Hague in 1977 when his chiding of delegates at the annual conference made the national television bulletins. Nevertheless the name of Douglas Ross registered with me as I thought, one for the future.

True enough he is now the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Today, in his second day in office he is demanding an action plan to help Aberdeen, a city in its second lockdown.

This of course is what new leaders do. They hit the ground running, opining on this, that and the next thing as the feverish activity is supposed to say, I am a man of action and I am serious.

On his first day he issued a lengthy statement which amounted to very little. He would lead a “positive and credible alternative” as he demanded “a fresh start for our country”. 

The rhetoric continued to body swerve any heady heights as he informed us “education will be a crucial policy area for the Scottish Conservatives”. His leadership would take “a responsible and constructive approach” to the business of opposition. 

He declared: “I will work every day to keep the spirit of unity alive during the vital period ahead.” Breathless, it wasn’t.

A little understanding is perhaps called for. He will be judged in the months ahead by the substance of his leadership not on an opening statement on day one.

His opportunity was born from frustration with Jackson Carlaw’s leadership at Holyrood.  The seasoned bruiser was clearly pushed from his position with the suspicion that Ross was part of the palace coup. The choreography since last Thursday afternoon tells us that much.

Now I thought Carlaw frequently got his tone wrong over his interrogation of Nicola Sturgeon but equally I thought, with the exception of Ruth Davidson, I am not sure that those sitting behind him could do any better. And what’s more neither did they as those same people helped draft a Westminster MP to lead them with a little expected help from an electoral parachute.

At Westminster Ross has been an assiduous enough MP for Moray and is quick to get to his feet to defend the interests of his local patch.

But what does he stand for? What are his big ideas? How does he intend to maximise support for the Tory cause? And how will he tread the redefined ground of a constitutional debate reshaped by Brexit and a seemingly all conquering party of independence?

One of the thinking Tory MSPs, the constitutional expert Professor Adam Tomkins wrote a long tome recently in which he openly speculated that his party might have no chance of turning the political tide. He argued the Tories had to be presentationally sharper saying the SNP record was pretty poor but that his party were not landing enough blows.

What intrigued me by the Tomkins analysis was its emphasis on presentation and style and not on hard strategy let alone policy. Reading it I thought, apart from arguing for the Union, what is it that fires the Scottish Tories?

Not since the days of Michael Forsyth has the party in Scotland had an ideological Tory with a campaigning zeal to cut the Left down to size. Back then Tories seemed to have a mission, admittedly one that the vast bulk of electors in Scotland did not share.

Since those days the Scottish Tories seemed to have hobbled along, until the post referendum landscape bestowed on them an electoral dividend which was not born out of any clever thinking on their part.

What of the leaders of the devolution era? David McLetchie was a right winger who appeared cowed by Scotland’s centre-left consensus. So much so that on occasions he joined in. 

Annabel Goldie offered no more than managerialism with an empathetic face and a humour which proved useful when she didn’t fancy mixing it.  

Davidson was a modern face whose social liberalism chimed with a generation not instinctively Conservative.

And what of Douglas Ross? Where stands he in the firmament of beliefs? Will he offer more managerialism which is rooted in the politics of trying not to offend or will he be a crusader for a smaller state, lower taxes and privatisation, those anchors that were the hallmarks of the Tories in an age of competing philosophies?

Over to you, Mr Ross.