Carlaw appointed interim leader as search for Davidson successor starts

Jackson Carlaw has been appointed interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives pending a leadership election, the party has confirmed.

The MSP held the position during Ruth Davidson’s recent maternity leave.

The party’s management board confirmed the appointment in a statement following a meeting on Thursday evening.

It said: “The management board of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party agreed unanimously that following the resignation of Rt Hon Ruth Davidson MSP as the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party on 29 August 2019, Jackson Carlaw MSP should be appointed interim leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party with immediate effect until the conclusion of the leadership election.

“The management board of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party will promulgate rules for a leadership election later this year to allow for the election of a new Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.”

Mr Carlaw, who became an MSP in 2007, is the current Scottish Conservative depute leader.

But having first stood for election in 1982, it is uncertain if he would want to take on the leadership role on a permanent basis.

Murdo Fraser ran against Ruth Davidson for the post of Scottish Conservative leader in 2011 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A possible candidate to succeed Ms Davidson could be Murdo Fraser, who ran for the job against her in 2011.

At that time he proposed that the Scottish Tories should split from the UK party – an idea which could prove appealing given the lack of support north of the border for Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Adam Tomkins, the party’s constitution spokesman at Holyrood, could be another contender.

He was elected to Holyrood in 2016, but before that the constitutional law expert represented the Tories on the Smith Commission, the cross-party body which agreed the blueprint for greater devolution after the 2014 independence referendum.

Adam Tomkins is the Scottish Tory constitution spokesman (Jane Barlow/PA)

Miles Briggs, meanwhile, has proved successful as Scottish Conservative health spokesman, pushing the Scottish Government to extend free personal care to under-65s as part of the Frank’s Law campaign.

Liam Kerr – another Conservative who came to Holyrood – has also been a strong performer as the party’s justice spokesman.

Whoever the takes the top job will have a tough act to follow as Ms Davidson has, almost singlehandedly, transformed the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives.

Under her leadership, the Tories – who were wiped out in Scotland in the 1997 general election – have become the main party of opposition to the SNP, largely due to a strong focus on keeping the country within the UK.

That policy will not change with her successor, but Ms Davidson’s sudden departure leaves a massive void in the party north of the border.

The last two elections have seen the Tories make major gains under Ms Davidson – with the party winning a record 31 seats at Holyrood in 2016.

In the 2017 general election, the party won 13 seats in Scotland, up from the one they had held previously, with Tories delighted to oust former first minister Alex Salmond and the SNP’s then-Westminster leader Angus Robertson from their seats.

This result helped keep then-prime minister Theresa May in Downing Street, and it is uncertain whether Ms Davidson’s successor would be able to repeat it at the next election.

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