Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, is expected to be appointed as leader of the Scottish Conservatives as the party scrambles to reverse a steep fall in popularity before the Scottish election in May.
The party plans the quickest possible coronation for Ross, who confirmed on Friday he would stand after Jackson Carlaw’s shock resignation on Thursday night.
Party officials are trying to dissuade other people from standing to avoid a delay in Ross’s appointment as leader, after a series of opinion polls showed a majority of voters are now backing Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party.
Ross confirmed the previous Scottish leader, Ruth Davidson, had agreed to take first minister’s questions for the Conservatives until the next Holyrood elections, but will not assume the role of interim leader or act as Ross’s deputy.
Carlaw quit after a series of polls showed the SNP were on course to win an overall majority in the forthcoming election, putting a second independence referendum back on the agenda, with support for the Tories slumping to 20%.
Panelbase polls put the SNP at 55% in a Scottish election. The same polls showed support for independence had now reached a record 54%, excluding “don’t knows”.
A senior party source said the Tories believed Panelbase’s results were accurate and that put the future of the UK in peril. The Scottish party believes a large part of their challenge is countering deep antipathy towards Boris Johnson among potential Tory voters in Scotland.
His backers believe Ross can counter attacks that he will be controlled by No 10 by pointing out he was the first UK government minister to resign in protest over the decision by Dominic Cummings and his wife to travel to Durham during lockdown while they were ill with Covid-19 symptoms.
In his statement on Friday confirming he planned to stand, Ross said: “This is a crucial time in Scottish politics. We are months away from an important election, and need strong, decisive leadership of our party to take on and defeat the SNP in seats right across the country.
“[I] want us to show clearly to everyone in Scotland, no matter where they live or who they are, that if they want to move on from the divisions of the past and focus on the issues that really matter; a strong economy, good schools, safe streets and a world-leading NHS then the Scottish Conservatives will be their voice.
“Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that’s a relationship I want to maintain and improve. Under my leadership, this will be an absolute priority.”
In a move likely to provoke opposition attacks about being a part-timer, Ross will seek a seat at Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish parliamentary election but is expected to stay on as MP for Moray. The Tories will cite Alex Salmond’s decision to remain an MP after winning a Holyrood seat in 2007, when he became first minister.