DOUGLAS Ross has promised to make the Union his “absolute priority” as leader of the Scottish Tories.

But the former Scotland Office minister admitted that if he was to replace Jackson Carlaw as party chief, he’d still be keeping his second job as a professional referee.

At the moment, the top job looks set to be his, with momentum firmly behind his campaign.

Yesterday, the party’s management board met to set the ground rules for the leadership contest – the party’s second in under six months.

Anyone throwing their hat into the ring will need to have the support of at least 100 party members by noon on Wednesday .

Yesterday, Ross launched his campaign – complete with swish, red, blue and white logo – promising members “strong, decisive leadership” and to “take on and defeat the SNP in seats right across the country.”

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He also confirmed that if elected he would intend to return to Holyrood at the election and in the meantime, Ruth Davidson would act as his stand-in.

In a statement, Ross said: “My message to voters across Scotland will be this: if you want to build a better Scotland, if you want to beat the SNP, and if you want to put the divisions of the past few years behind us, the party I plan to lead is one you can unite behind, and one that can win.”

On the Union, Ross said: “Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that’s a relationship I want to maintain and improve. Under my leadership, this will be an absolute priority.”

Asked about his other job, running the line, Ross told Bauer Media: “I think it’s useful to have an outside interest that people can engage with. It may not be particularly popular in garnering votes, but I think it’s useful to be able to say to people that I’m not a one-dimensional politician who can only think about politics.

“I have an interest in football, it’s been a big part of my life for a number of years and there’s a sense of pride when I pull on my referee shirt with the Scottish FA badge on it. You know I’m a proud member of the Scottish FA refereeing fraternity, and it’s something I’ve wanted to continue.”

Ross has been criticised for his refereeing on several occasions in recent years. Back in 2017, he was forced to give up on his dream of refereeing at the World Cup after he was came in for some slack for missing Westminster ­business to officiate at a match in Barcelona.

And last year he was accused of breaking a promise to constituents after signing up to run the line at a midweek Championship League game while Boris Johnson had unlawfully suspended Parliament.

In February, the then-minister was condemned after opting to officiate at a football game in Ukraine instead of appearing in a TV debate on the Tory Government’s immigration plans.

The National: Michelle Ballantyne MSP

Meanwhile, in an incredible interview on Thursday night, Michelle Ballantyne (above) – who ran against Carlaw for the leadership at the start of the year – claimed he had been pushed out by Boris Johnson.

She told BBC Scotland’s The Nine: “I think he must have been pushed. I mean as you said in your broadcast, he was there in Parliament this afternoon. We got no warning, there was no conversation, we got a press release saying he was resigning – I’m sorry, he was pushed.”

She said while the push had been “coming from everywhere” she suspected “it was Westminster that pushed him”.

The presenter asked Ballantyne: “So Boris Johnson or perhaps even Dominic Cummings scalping your party up here, are you happy with that?”

READ MORE: Here's what Scottish Tory leader hopeful Douglas Ross said he'd do if PM

“No,” she replied. “I’m happy he’s gone. I never thought he was the right person. I think the party did make a bad choice in making him leader.”

The SNP said this proved Ross’s leadership bid – and likely victory – was part of a plot by Johnson to turn the Scottish Tories into a party of hardline Brexiteers.

The party’s depute leader Keith Brown said: “This grubby fiasco is more evidence, if we needed it, of the discontent and dirty tricks at play in the Scottish Tory party.

“Jackson Carlaw was chosen as Tory leader at Holyrood less than six months ago, but after the Prime Minister’s visit to Scotland last week, he’s already been given the boot by their London HQ.

“Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have been plotting the coronation of Douglas Ross in the shadows – aided and abetted apparently by Ruth Davidson. Jackson Carlaw clearly doesn’t need enemies when he has friends like Davidson.”