Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has backtracked on comments he made suggesting Conservative voters could vote Labour at the next general election in seats where Sir Keir Starmer’s party had a better chance of winning against the SNP.
Mr Ross’s comments regarding the next general election in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph suggested Conservative voters “do what is best for the country” and support “the strongest candidate to beat the SNP”, strongly suggesting that may involve voting Labour, where they are in the best place to beat the SNP.
The Scottish Tory leader appeared to backtrack on the comments in an interview with Channel 4’s Ciaran Jenkins on Sunday evening after they caused anger within the UK party – and it has since emerged he did not discuss it with the UK party leader and Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.
Mr Ross told Channel 4 News: “I’m very clear I want Scottish Conservative voters to vote Scottish Conservative, but we know, there are many seats across Scotland in the north, the north east and the central belt such as East Renfrewshire where the Scottish Conservatives are the challengers to the SNP.”
He said: “If supporters of other parties unite behind the Scottish Conservatives we can see the SNP losing seats right across Scotland.
“What I am focused on are the seats where the Scottish Conservatives are the main challengers, it’s up to other parties to decide what they want to do in the seats they are targeting.
“Currently at Westminster and Holyrood, the Scottish Conservatives have more MSPs and MPs than Labour or the Liberal Democrats combined.
“We are the biggest party challenging the SNP.”
But Mr Ross was challenged on these assertions by Channel 4 correspondent Ciaran Jenkins, who asked him if he was “sure about that”.
Mr Jenkins said: “How many seats are Labour in second place to the SNP in Westminster?”
Mr Ross said: “Less than the Scottish Conservatives.”
He was then presented with figures showing that Labour were actually second place to the SNP in 26 Westminster seats in Scotland, compared to 20 for the Tories.
Mr Ross said: “I haven’t discussed this directly with the Prime Minister, but we have discussed where we are going to be focusing our efforts in the forthcoming general election whenever that is called.”
The Tories rejected Mr Ross’s comments on Sunday, and said they were “emphatically not the view of the Conservative Party” and that voters should support the Tories “wherever they are standing”.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Douglas Ross’ delusional reaction to the pressure his party faces is truly something to behold.
“His desperate attempts to smear Labour at every turn smack of a leader and a party who know that their time is up.
“Scotland deserves better than the scandal-hit SNP and the failing Tories.
“The people of Scotland are crying out for change and Scottish Labour is working hard to deliver the change that Scotland needs.”