Scottish Conservatives to announce leadership contest winner

jackson carlaw and michelle ballatyne

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The contest between Mr Carlaw and Ms Ballantyne has been increasingly bitter

The Scottish Conservatives are to unveil the winner of the contest to succeed Ruth Davidson as party leader.

The two candidates are MSPs Jackson Carlaw and Michelle Ballantyne, with party members electing the winner.

Mr Carlaw has been interim leader since Ms Davidson’s resignation in August, and is seen as the clear favourite to win the ballot.

The contest has been bad-tempered, with the two candidates trading insults ahead of the result being announced.

Ms Ballantyne, who believes she has strong grassroots support but has not won public backing from any MPs or MSPs, accused Mr Carlaw of running a general election campaign that “lacked vision and ambition”, with the party losing seven of its 13 MPs.

Mr Carlaw hit back by claiming his opponent was the only member of the Tory frontbench team at Holyrood never to submit a “single policy proposal”.

The winner will be announced at an event in Edinburgh at about 10:00.

The Scottish Conservatives are currently the second biggest party at Holyrood, with Ms Davidson widely credited with turning around its electoral fortunes in her eight years as leader.

But she quit shortly after returning from maternity leave, saying that “much had changed” both politically and personally in recent months.

As well as the birth of her son, Ms Davidson had been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – particularly over his approach to Brexit.

Her successor will have to prepare the party for next year’s Scottish Parliament election, with opinion polls suggesting that the SNP remains on course to win a fourth successive term in government.

Who are the leadership candidates?

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Jackson Carlaw is a close ally of Ms Davidson, and has been the party’s acting leader since she resigned

Jackson Carlaw worked as a car salesman in the west of Scotland for 25 years before being elected as an MSP, but has been involved in politics since joining the Conservatives as teenager in the late 1970s.

He first stood as a candidate in the 1982 Queen’s Park by-election, and after several other unsuccessful attempts was eventually elected as a list MSP for the West of Scotland region in the 2007 and again in 2011 – when he also became Ms Davidson’s deputy leader.

Mr Carlaw, who is married with two children, was elected as the MSP for Eastwood in 2016, and served as acting leader when Ms Davidson went on maternity leave ahead of the birth of her son in May of last year.

When Ms Davidson resigned as party leader in August, Mr Carlaw was immediately appointed as interim leader – with some of his supporters hoping he would be given the role on a permanent basis without a leadership contest being required.

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Ms Davidson said the birth of her son had changed her priorities

The 60-year-old says he wants the party to appeal to “middle Scotland” ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament election, when he says his goal is to “take down” Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

Among his key policy proposals are increasing the number of teachers in Scotland by 2,000, bringing income taxes into line with the rest of the UK, and scrapping the Scottish government’s plan to introduce a so-called parking tax.

He told his official campaign launch last month that he stands for “a decent, generous-spirited, ‘aspirational conservatism’ that promotes the values and ambitions of middle Scotland”.

Mr Carlaw has already secured support from a majority of MSPs, all of the Conservative Party’s local council leaders in Scotland and some MPs.

He says the experience he has built up in his lengthy stint as acting leader – which saw him go head-to-head with Ms Sturgeon during first minister’s questions every week – mean he would be able to hit the ground running if he wins the race to do the job full time.

But critics point out that Mr Carlaw’s tenure included last month’s general election, when the Scottish Conservatives lost seven of the 13 seats they had won under Ms Davidson in 2017 despite the Tories winning a majority across the UK as a whole.

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Michelle Ballantyne has focused her campaign on winning support from grassroots party members

Michelle Ballantyne started her career as a staff nurse at an NHS intensive care unit in London before moving into health service management.

She moved to the Scottish Borders with her husband, a former paratrooper, in 1990 to raise their six children – with the couple starting a business in Walkerburn that continues to make and sell die-cast models.

Ms Ballantyne continued to work as a nurse before becoming the head of a charity that provided specialist drug and alcohol support to children, families and offenders.

She was elected to Scottish Borders council in 2012, before becoming a list MSP for the South of Scotland region May 2017. She is currently the party’s communities and social security spokeswoman at Holyrood.

In 2018 she sparked controversy after telling the Parliament that “people on benefit cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don’t claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have”.

She defended the remarks in a recent interview with BBC Scotland by saying: “What I said is that we need a level playing field. So people who are in work need to have the same opportunities as people who aren’t in work.”

Ms Ballantyne’s most high profile supporter so far has been the former Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson, who stood down in November to fight allegations that he sexually assaulted a Labour MP in a Commons bar.

She says she is standing against Mr Carlaw because the party needs to have a proper debate about its future rather than merely crowning him unopposed as Ms Davidson’s successor.

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