Ross must answer ‘serious’ questions over travel expenses, warns Swinney

The Scottish Tory leader has denied claiming parliamentary expenses to cover travel costs for his refereeing job.

Ross must answer ‘serious’ questions over travel expenses, warns Swinney Getty Images
Key Points
  • Report claims Scottish Conservative leader’s advisers flagged concerns over 28 parliamentary travel claims
  • Swinney says Ross ‘significantly undermined’ position as Scottish Conservative leader by choosing to stand as candidate
  • Scottish Tory deputy defends Ross’s leadership amid Duguid criticism

Douglas Ross has “serious” questions to answer on whether he used Westminster expenses to travel for his job as a football linesman, Scotland’s First Minister has said.

Reports in the Sunday Mail claim the Scottish Conservative leader’s advisers flagged concerns over 28 parliamentary travel claims which may have been combined with his work as a linesman.

John Swinney has said the claims are “very significant” and has demanded Mr Ross explains the expenses in detail.

Under UK parliamentary rules, MPs can only claim travel from their home airport – which was either Inverness or Aberdeen in Mr Ross’s case when he was MP for Moray.

They can also claim for “diverted” journeys, but must supply detailed notes on the diversion.

What are the claims?

The newspaper states Mr Ross’s aides raised alarm in November 2021 over expense claims which included a £58 parking fee at Inverness Airport in July 2018 while Parliament was in recess.

It also stated £43 rail travel from Heathrow to central London was claimed the day after Mr Ross was a linesman in a match in Iceland.

Claims also include that he expensed a flight from London to Glasgow and £109 parking.

On November 1, 2020 it is alleged he claimed £48.99 for parking the day he refereed a Celtic game.

Has Douglas Ross responded?

Mr Ross told the paper it was “not possible” to go from London to a football game as he would not have had his referee kit with him.

He said: “I have only ever claimed expenses related to my role as a member of Parliament and the costs of getting me to and from Westminster.

“These have all been agreed by IPSA, the independent body that oversees MPs’ expenses, but I would have no issue with them being scrutinised again.”

FM says the report raises ‘significant’ concerns

While Mr Swinney said he did not want to “jump to conclusions”, he told journalists in Paisley on Sunday: “The report in the Sunday Mail this morning about Douglas Ross allegedly using public funds to support his career as a football linesman raises very significant issues and I think Douglas Ross has got to set out all of the information about this particular issue.

“I’m not going to jump to conclusions about people. I don’t know the details about this, but (this) raises very, very significant concerns.

“Douglas Ross is normally the first to be out of the stables demanding that everybody sets out all of the information, so I think Mr Ross should do that right away because the story raises very significant and serious issues of the potential misuse of public funds.”

Criticism of decision to stand as candidate

Mr Ross confirmed he is standing as a candidate in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East in the General Election, after previously ruling it out to focus on his Holyrood responsibilities.

He has come under fire for his handling of the issue after David Duguid was blocked from standing as the Scottish Tory candidate in the seat.

Mr Duguid was taken to hospital in April, with party management taking the decision that he is “unable to stand” due to ill health – which Mr Duguid has said is “simply incorrect”.

Mr Duguid had hoped to contest the seat, which replaced his previous Banff and Buchan and part of Mr Ross’s former Moray constituency under new boundary rules.

He said: “I think his ability to continue as Scottish Conservative leader is significantly undermined by his behaviour.

However, Mr Duguid is currently in hospital after becoming unwell in April and said the party’s membership candidate had de-selected him as a candidate.

Mr Ross previously said he would not contest his seat at the General Election, instead promising to focus on his MSP role and leadership responsibilities.

While Mr Ross has defended his position to stand, citing the “very unique circumstances” around Mr Duguid’s health and the timing of the election as his motivations, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister John Swinney accused his opponent of “naked self-interest”.

He said: “I think his ability to continue as Scottish Conservative leader is significantly undermined by his behaviour.

“Douglas Ross has no credibility whatsoever – he has been telling us all that he wants to be leader of the Scottish Conservative Party so that he can become the first minister of Scotland.

“But he is now taking a decision to try to get back to the House of Commons so he is just exercising constant naked self-interest in the decisions that he takes.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson said: “The party management board took an incredibly difficult decision to conclude that David Duguid could not stand at this election for health reasons.

“David has been a fantastic local MP for the last seven years and Douglas worked incredibly well with him as the neighbouring MP in Moray.

“Everyone wishes David well in his continued recovery and looks forward to his return to frontline politics.

“Given the short timeframe to ensure we had a candidate in this key seat, Douglas decided he needed to lead from the front and stop this area being represented by an SNP MP who would only focus on independence, rather than local people’s real priorities.”

Speaking to the PA news agency on the campaign trail in Perth, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives Meghan Gallacher said it was a “difficult situation” to deselect Mr Duguid, adding the management board who took the decision had a “duty of care” to the former MP.

And she defended her boss, stating: “Douglas Ross always leads from the front you can see that by his leadership in the Scottish Parliament. It was only last month – due to Douglas Ross – that Humza Yousaf had to resign.”

“We’re now all focused on taking forward the general election.”

She said the party was focused on particularly taking seats from the SNP.

Ian Bailey (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Andy Brown (Scottish Labour Party), Jo Hart (Reform UK) and Seamus Logan (Scottish National Party (SNP) are also standing as candidates.

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