Nicola Sturgeon has paid tribute to Jackson Carlaw after he quit as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
The First Minister responded to the news of his shock resignation just hours after fiery exchanges between the pair in the Scottish Parliament.
Writing on Twitter, Sturgeon acknowledged she and Carlaw had “crossed swords politically on many occasions” but said they had also worked “constructively” at times.
She was joined by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who praised the Eastwood MSP as “courteous and respectful” despite being a political opponent
Carlaw had only been in post since February, after serving on an interim basis as Scottish Tory leader for six months prior following Ruth Davidson’s resignation.
He said his resignation was a “painful decision” after realising he was not the best person to lead the party in the run-up to next May’s Holyrood election.
Carlaw said he had decided he was “not the person best placed” to make the case for the union in Scotland.
The FM described party leadership as “a tough business”, with Carlaw’s departure leaving the Scottish Tories leaderless with just over nine months until the next Holyrood election.
The First Minister said: “I wish Jackson Carlaw all the best.
“We’ve crossed swords politically on many occasions, but worked constructively on some issues too – he has, eg, been a strong voice for women suffering mesh complications.
“Leadership is a tough business and I’m sure his decision wasn’t easy.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also hailed Carlaw as someone who has “given his all” over a long career to his party.
The PM also said of Carlaw that it is a “mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time”.
Johnson said: “Jackson Carlaw has been a tremendous servant to the Scottish Conservative Party for more than four decades.
“As an activist, deputy chairman, deputy leader and leader, he has given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.”
Scottish Labour’s leader said whoever succeeded Carlaw had a “special responsibility” to persuade Johnson to cooperate with Sturgeon and the Scottish Government in the fight against coronavirus.
Richard Leonard stated: “I wish Jackson Carlaw well, and I am sure he will continue to make a valuable contribution to Scottish politics.
“Although a political opponent he has remained courteous and respectful.
“With Covid-19 still a real and dangerous threat, it is important that we work together to tackle the public health and economic crises the country now faces.
“As part of this approach, it is crucial that the UK and Scottish governments cooperate in Scotland’s best interests.
“Jackson Carlaw’s successor will have a special responsibility to persuade Boris Johnson and his government to do that.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford questioned the abruptness of Carlaw’s departure, amid speculation MP Douglas Ross is already angling for the Scottish Tories’ top job.
The Moray MP – and former MSP – resigned from Boris Johnson’s government as a Scotland Office minister over the Dominic Cummings scandal.
Blackford tweeted: “So Jackson Carlaw has gone. Was he pushed or did he jump?
“The speed of the messages calling for Douglas Ross to be the new leader suggests the former.
“Just as we have seen with Labour, it is London calling the shots. No surprise that Michael Gove has been in Scotland recently.”
Meanwhile, Carlaw’s predecessor Ruth Davidson said the Eastwood MSP’s resignation statement had shown “the class of the man”.
The former Scottish Tory leader said: “Jackson Carlaw has served the Scottish Tories at almost every level for over 40 years.
“I can’t thank him enough for the eight years we served together as my deputy and you see the class of the man in his resignation this evening.”
Davidson will once again take the leader of the opposition slot for First Minister’s Questions against Nicola Sturgeon while the party picks a new leader.
Announcing his decision to quit on Friday, Carlaw said he had realised he was “not the person best placed” to make the case for the union.
Recent polling has suggested the SNP is on course for a majority at next May’s Scottish Parliament election, while support for independence has enjoyed consistent majority support.
The outgoing Scottish Conservative leader said: “Over the summer I have had the chance to think hard about my role as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
“Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument.
“I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.”
He continued: “In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion – that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections.”