by Colin Campbell
BEFORE he’d even got the job as leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, the SNP branded Douglas Ross a racist.
It was a vicious accusation but one not entirely unexpected from the well-honed SNP smear machine.
It stemmed from one single comment he’d made a couple of years ago, when he said on a radio programme that he favoured tougher action against groups of travellers who illegally take over private land whenever and wherever they choose. There had been ongoing problems in Moray with this, as there have been in so many other places, including Inverness.
“I would like to see tougher enforcement against gipsy travellers,” he said.
That was it, the full extent of his alleged “racism”.
Very many people would wholeheartedly agree with Douglas Ross. Inverness has been spared the worst of these problems in the past couple of years but there have been numerous occasions when travellers have been a nightmare for local residents, moving into different areas of the city and remaining there for weeks on end. While the council, hemmed in by SNP Scottish Government restrictions on what they can do about it, have ineffectually tiptoed around the problems they’ve caused.
Mr Ross should possibly have left the word “gipsy” out of his observation, but that didn’t alter the general point he was making, which wouldn’t have generated even a ripple of controversy among the vast majority of people who heard it.
But the SNP smear machine went into overdrive as they tried to make that horrible “racist” charge stick.
Douglas Ross should have made his anger at this baseless and scurrilous accusation very clear.
Instead, he faltered, and conceded: “On reflection, I have got to look at what I said and how I said it.”
That was a peculiarly lame response. He’d said nothing wrong. And he should not have shown the merest hint of contrition.
I do not know Mr Ross, but I know his sister. They come from a very nice family who live in Forres.
But those of us who are eager to see him defend the Union in the looming battle against the nationalists in the run-up to next year’s Holyrood election do not want a conciliator as leader of the Scots Tories. We want a fighter and a bruiser and a schemer and a strategist who can also be ruthless. Nothing else will do against mud-slinging, muckraking SNP opponents. Someone in the mould of Dominic Cummings who is not Dominic Cummings would fit the bill.
Whether or not Douglas Ross is that man remains to be seen. But he cannot be seen to capitulate in any way to the vitriol that will be directed at him by nationalist zealots. These people think an SNP election win next year will make it “untenable” for Boris Johnson to continue to veto a second independence referendum. They’re wrong, of course. He will continue to refuse a section 30 order granting “indyref2” for as long as he remains in office.
But a strong performance from Douglas Ross in the months ahead could certainly make it easier for him to do so.
Attack him personally and viciously? Go down into the gutter? The SNP will do all of that. Douglas Ross doesn’t have to stoop to that level, but he should get very angry and hit back hard when he is falsely smeared in the ugliest possible way.