Economic recovery is 'number one priority' for Ross on Scottish Parliament return
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IT'S good to be back – that was the sentiment from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross after his first few weeks back in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Ross, who is also MP for Moray, joined 30 party colleagues at Holyrood after being elected as one of four Tory MSPs in the Highlands and Islands electoral region. The campaign which preceded it, though, felt the heavy hand of Covid restrictions throughout.
He said: "The campaign was very, very different to what we'd normally expect.
"We couldn't meet people in the normal way, speak to people on the doorstep or hold public meetings or rallies.
"The count itself was held over two days and I'm surprised any of us have any nails left.
"The way the count was run is a great credit to the team who ran it.
"I'm delighted to have been re-elected, it's good to be back after a break of five years [Mr Ross was first elected to Holyrood in 2016].
"It was a good result overall for the Scottish Conservatives; we returned with the same number of seats and did very well again in the Highlands and Islands region. Before 2016, we only won two seats but since then we have four.
"In Banffshire and Buchan Coast Mark Findlater pulled off a remarkable achievement in running the SNP so close. In Moray, Tim Eagle led us to our best ever result in the constituency.
"It just shows we are well within the number of votes to put up a credible challenge in these seats.
"I think one of the main reasons behind this comes down to constituencies like Banffshire and Buchan Coast feel ignored by the SNP government. in 2007 [when the SNP first entered government] many people felt they had elected local representatives but since then the area has been ignored in favour of the central belt. We need investment in the area and our councils need proper funding."
With three roles to juggle – Scottish party leader, MP and MSP – time management is always going to be important, with Mr Ross saying he was managing so far but would have to "see how it goes". He noted that the ability to remotely attend debates in both parliaments made life a lot easier, although to what degree this facility would continued, especially at Westminster, remain unclear at the moment.
However, being an MSP makes his job as Scottish party boss a lot easier.
"It makes a big difference being at Holyrood as party leader," Mr Ross continued.
"It was difficult before and I'm delighted [former party leader] Ruth Davidson came to back and stood in.
"I'm also delighted to be able to see my colleagues a lot more; it as something I was very aware of before and it was very challenging at times. I do believe, though, that being in both parliaments is a benefit, they should be working together."
Although the campaign had a very different feel to it, there were still plenty issues which came up.
"The number one issue was the recovery from the pandemic.
"People appreciate what they've been through over the last 15 months, no-one still expected to be under restrictions in June 2021. People want to see the same sort of unity we had during the pandemic in the recovery process, they expect politicians across the board to work together."
Mr Ross went on to say recovery is the party's number one priority in the Scottish Parliament, with education being another.
"Education was something we got a lot of complaints about during the election, although that's nothing against the teachers themselves.
"There has been a lack of uniformity as to how things have been handled during the pandemic."
The NHS was another area underlined by Mr Ross, who stressed that there was a "huge backlog" of treatments that needed tackled after being postponed as medical staff battled the ravages of the Covid virus.
A major issue at some point in the new parliament is likely to be a second independence referendum, with Mr Ross adamant that it should not take place, branding it a "distraction".
He said: "A second independence referendum is a huge distraction from the issues the Scottish Government should be focusing on.
"Nicola Sturgeon has taken her eye off the ball with so many issues which the Scottish Government has the powers to address.
"The Scottish Conservatives have 15 Bills which could improve the lives of people in Scotland. I don't see a second independence referendum as a critical issue. We should put that issue to one side and focus on the important challenges."
However, there was plenty to be positive about for the Scottish Conservative's chief.
"I'm really looking forward to and to First Minister's Questions.
"We've got a lot of new talent in the Conservatives' ranks as well as talented returning MSPs.
"Like everyone else I'm looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality."
With Scotland making their long-awaited return to a major tournament earlier this month, Mr Ross reflected that the last time the team achieved that accolade he was still a student at Forres Academy.
He added: "If someone had said to me then that the next time Scotland qualified for a major tournament I'd be the leader of the Scottish Conservative party I wouldn't have believed them."
Whatever happens on the political front there is joy ahead for Mr Ross and his wife Krystle with the birth of their second child soon.