New leader, new direction - where next for the Scottish Tories?

Douglas Ross
Douglas Ross will make way for a new leader [PA Media]

The Scottish Conservatives didn’t have as bad an election night as many in the party had feared.

Against the backdrop of a heavy UK-wide defeat, they only lost one MP.

But after an internal revolt sparked by a last-minute decision to run for Westminster again, they’re also losing their leader Douglas Ross.

Party bosses will meet later this week to discuss plans for a leadership contest.

So what comes next?

Before looking at some of the potential candidates, it’s probably worth reflecting on the challenging landscape the Conservatives in Scotland face.

They’re still the second largest party at Holyrood, but it looks like a Labour resurgence is eating into their vote.

And if Nigel Farage’s Reform party are here to stay that’s probably a headache for them too.

'A new message'

Looking ahead, the Scottish political battlefield isn’t as fertile for them as it once was.

After heavy SNP loses, it feels like we’ll be hearing less about a second independence referendum in the near future.

The Scottish Tories may have opposed independence, but the spectre of another referendum was a very useful campaigning tool for them.

One Scottish Conservative MSP, Stephen Kerr, told me his party “packed a punch” when it came to the constitution, but it now needs a new message.

He believes Scotland is “one of the most Conservative countries in Europe”, and wants to see which of his colleagues can outline an effective low tax, socially conservative platform.

Stephen Kerr thinks there needs to be a longer contest where the future of the right in Scotland can be debated in detail.

It feels like this is a party that will need to adjust.

So who’s weighing up a bid? And where would they take the Scottish Conservatives?

Russell Findlay: 'Taking stock'

Russell Findlay
Russell Findlay is a former investigative journalist [Getty Images]

A former investigative journalist, Russell Findlay has been an MSP for the West of Scotland since 2021. Before that he worked for the Scottish Conservatives.

He’s written books on gangland crime and was the victim of an acid attack in 2015, when an assailant appeared at his door disguised as a postman.

In recent years he’s taken a lead for the party in a number of justice issues.

He’s told the BBC he’s taking stock before making any decisions about running.

Craig Hoy: 'Safe pair of hands'

Craig Hoy
Craig Hoy is the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives [PA Media]

A fellow MSP and also a former journalist, Craig Hoy is the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.

He’s widely considered a safe pair of hands and regularly appears in the media on behalf of the party.

As party chair he has some influence over how this contest is run.

It’s likely he’d have to step away from his current role if he decides he wants to try and lead the Scottish Conservatives.

Meghan Gallacher: 'A rapid rise'

Meghan Gallacher
Meghan Gallacher is the current deputy leader of the party [Getty Images]

Meghan Gallacher is currently the Deputy Leader of the party.

In 2021 she was elected to represent the central region of Scotland in her late 20s. Since then she has had a rapid rise.

Douglas Ross appointed her as his deputy in 2022, and she was front and centre of the party’s opposition to controversial proposals to make it easier for Scots to change their legal sex.

The politics graduate wrote her dissertation on the decline of the Conservative Party in Scotland – is she dusting it off right now?

Jamie Greene: Contest warning

Jamie Greene has represented the West of Scotland region since 2016.

Before politics he worked in media and he is currently the co-convener of Holyrood’s LGBTI+ cross party group.

The potential candidate has written in The Times this week, cautioning against a “lurch to the right”.

But he doesn’t want to see “business as usual” and is also warning against a swift leadership contest.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Lunchtime Live programme he said said there must be a "comprehensive, respectful but quite robust debate" about the future of centre right politics in Scotland.

When pressed on whether he intends to stand he said he "certainly" won't name any names until further into the process.

Murdo Fraser: New party?

Murdo Fraser
Murdo Fraser is a veteran of the party [Getty Images]

If Murdo Fraser decides to run, it won’t be his first rodeo.

The long-serving MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife ran to lead his party in 2011, but lost out to Ruth Davidson.

He had a radical platform back then: wanting the party to change its name and split from the UK Conservatives.

Given Westminster scandals over recent years, it is an idea that’s never fully gone away.

Will he run again? And if so, will he revive the proposal of a new party of the right?

Maurice Golden: Green issues

Maurice Golden
Maurice Golden is "weighing things up" before deciding if he will run [Getty Images]

The North East MSP may represent the blue party, but he’s vocal on all issues green.

Golden went as far as criticising his own Prime Minister - Rishi Sunak - last year when environmental commitments were watered down.

He accused the prime minister of dragging “net zero into the territory of culture wars”.

He told me he is still "weighing things up" and wants to see "a more positive approach towards 2026".

The Scottish Tories avoided a disastrous result last week.

But they only received 12.7% of the vote, significantly down on the 25% they got in 2019.

This is a party that hasn't had a leadership contest since 2019 – Douglas Ross was elected unopposed.

It feels like there will be a competition – not a coronation - this time.

And with no obvious heir it may well be a crowded field.