The Conservative party has dismissed comments made by Douglas Ross, its leader in Scotland, which suggested Tory supporters should vote tactically to remove the Scottish National Party in the next general election.
Ross, MP for Moray, said that while he would always “encourage Scottish Conservative voters to vote Scottish Conservative”, where possible voters should support “the strongest candidate to beat the SNP” even if that means backing other parties.
He told The Telegraph newspaper that political parties ought to “look beyond their own narrow party agenda and do what’s best for the country” adding that in his view as Scottish Conservative leader it would best to see the “grip that the SNP have on Scotland” loosened.
His remarks, aired in a documentary, were criticised by some senior Tories. “This is emphatically not the view of the Conservative party,” a spokesperson from Conservative campaign headquarters said.
“We want people to vote for Conservative candidates wherever they are standing as that’s the best way to keep Labour and the SNP out.”
Some Labour strategists believe the party could win more than 20 seats in Scotland in the next general election, following the departure of Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish first minister and a bruising SNP leadership race, won by her replacement Humza Yousaf.
YouGov polling data from the March victory found that 43 per cent of voters in Scotland would back the SNP in the election, 27 per cent would support Labour, while 19 per cent would vote for Conservative.
On Sunday, some Tories defended Ross such as Craig Hoy, chair of the Scottish Conservative party, who told BBC Radio Scotland: “Douglas was quite clear saying the Scottish Conservatives should always advocate that people should vote for the Conservative party”.
In an interview with the broadcaster GB News on Sunday, Ross clarified his remarks arguing there were several seats across Scotland “where the main challengers are SNP MPs and that people want to move on from the decade of tradition” under Nicola Sturgeon.
Ross, who was elected to parliament in 2017 and who will not stand as an MP in the next general election, has in the past clashed with the Conservative government in London.
During the Covid pandemic, he resigned from his junior ministerial post in protest after allegations that Dominic Cummings, then adviser to the prime minister, broke lockdown rules.
Meanwhile, the SNP are facing growing questions over its governance in the wake of an investigation into the SNP’s finances.
Peter Murrell, who is married to Sturgeon, was arrested last week during a probe into the funding and finances of Scotland’s dominant party and later released without charge.
Sturgeon has stressed that she will co-operate in “full” with the continuing investigation into her husband Murrell, who in March stepped down as SNP chief executive, and called for privacy for her family and neighbours.
“The last few days have been obviously difficult, quite traumatic at times, but I understand that is part of a process,” Sturgeon told reporters outside her home over the weekend.