The Tories must be more than just the “party of no to indyref2” if they are to challenge the SNP for power in Scotland, Douglas Ross has said.
The Scottish Conservative leader, who was returned to Holyrood in Thursday’s election, said his party was now “starting on the long road to building that credible alternative to the SNP”.
He added: “We know there is a lot of hard graft to be done to get into that position and that right now it may seem incredible to some.
“But we proved yesterday that 2016 was no fluke, that the Scottish Conservatives are here to stay as Scotland’s second party.”
Mr Ross insisted the Scottish Tories had had their best-ever result in a Holyrood election under his leadership.
The party has remained on 31 seats, the number it won in 2016 and its previous record total.
That was after a campaign which the Tory leader’s opponents had branded as being “dark” and “divisive” because of its strong focus on preventing the SNP from holding a second independence referendum.
Mr Ross insisted they had achieved that, pointing to seats such as west Aberdeenshire, where the Tories increased their majority despite a strong challenge from the SNP, with results such as this key in stopping Nicola Sturgeon’s party from winning an overall majority.
Mr Ross said: “We have actually increased our vote share, so it is the best-ever result for the Scottish Conservatives.”
He said they had achieved that because the party was “disciplined in our message” and “knew the points we wanted to get across”.
With the election campaign now over, he said the Tories now had to seize the “opportunity to move on from just being seen as party against another independence referendum”.
While he stressed this would “always” be his party’s position, he said they needed to show themselves as a “party with ideas and ambition to take Scotland forward”.
Speaking the day after all the results in the latest Holyrood election were declared, Mr Ross said: “We promised that if pro-UK voters united behind us, we would stop an SNP majority. We did it.
“We promised to stop indyref2 – we have.”
He made that claim despite independence-supporting MSPs having a majority in the new Parliament, with 64 SNP representatives elected, along with a record eight Scottish Greens.
However, Ms Sturgeon’s party failed to win an overall majority, with Tory Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove insisting this meant it would not be appropriate for a second referendum to take place.
Mr Ross said the Tories’ next task was “to get 100% of the focus back on rebuilding Scotland” after coronavirus.
In the short term, that “means focusing relentlessly on Scotland’s recovery”, the Conservative insisted.
“The health and economic crisis must get our full attention.
“Now is the time to come together in the national interest and deliver Scotland’s recovery from Covid.”
He added that in the “longer term, to succeed in rebuilding Scotland from the last 14 years, we can’t just stop the SNP, we need to challenge them for the top job”.
He told his party: “We must be a stronger opposition than ever before – and we will be – but that is not enough.
“We have to demand more. We must be more than the party of no to indyref2.
“I recognise that – and I am determined that we will become an even broader movement.”
Mr Ross continued: “The Scottish people have gone through two elections now where the opposition has not been contending to be in government.
“They were the right messages for those elections but after what will be in 2026 nearly two decades of SNP rule, the Scottish people will deserve the right to choose an alternative.
“So, as of today, the Scottish Conservatives are starting on the long road to building that credible alternative to the SNP.
“We have to be able to win in every part of Scotland, to fight the SNP for every single seat.
“The Scottish Conservatives have a clear vision for how we can rebuild Scotland stronger.
“But to do that, we must remove the nationalists from government. While their focus is entirely on indyref2 and nothing else, Scotland will never succeed.”