Douglas Ross’s first Holyrood election as Scottish Tory leader ended with the party losing two constituencies but its overall seat tally remaining at 31. The Moray MP was not a hit on the campaign trail. Robotic, shouty, angry — pick your well-worn adjective. He was eviscerated daily by a hostile press and any number of commentators lined up to say all manner of uncharitable things about him. I was one of them.
Yet the results are there for all to see. Ross lost the commentariat but won the voters. The electorate had better buck up its ideas sharpish.
So confident was I that Ross was going to fall flat on his coupon, I spoke to a number of his colleagues on Saturday afternoon to gauge whether they thought he should stay on (which, in fairness, is what I was going to argue). None pushed back against the premise that the party would lose seats, but all agreed that Ross shouldn’t go anywhere. The enthusiasm seen for him in the past 24 hours pre-dates the results.
What happened? That relentlessly negative messaging that we pundits all cringed at? The voters were all for it, or at least enough to win the party almost 600,000 constituency votes and more than 600,000 list votes. There is an anti-Sturgeon, anti-SNP, anti-independence vote out there and Ross spoke to it better than anyone else. I suggested the other week that Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar might have miscalculated in running an ‘Uptown Funk’ rather than a ‘Rule Britannia’ campaign this time. The results Ross produced would appear to lend credence to that.
Here, though, is my problem with Douglas Ross: I know what he’s against but I’m not sure what he’s for.