DOUGLAS Ross is to step down as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and the wealth of talent jostling to replace him makes even the UK Government’s austerity agenda look like a pot of gold.

There are 30 MSPs who could potentially take over from Ross as group leader, something of a miracle number considering the circumstances of the 2021 Holyrood election.

But even with a bigger group than they could have expected, do any of the Scottish Tories’ MSPs have the will to take the party in a new direction?

Back in 2022, the then leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said Ross had “always been a lightweight”.

What exactly, then, does that make the rest of them?

Murdo Fraser at least showed some initiative in the 2011 Scots Tory leadership race with a suggestion to break away from the UK party.

That would have helped them fend off the constant charges of hypocrisy that have been rife through Ross’s leadership as he tried to play a long game of “one rule for my bosses, another for the SNP".

But there hasn’t been so much as a whisper of it this time around.

Perhaps the Scottish Tories realise that the middle of a General Election campaign is not the moment to divide their party in two (even if they did think it was an appropriate time for a leadership resignation).

Perhaps they realise that the UK Tory leadership will also undergo an imminent change. After all, everyone else knows Rishi Sunak won't last long after votes are counted on July 5.

Perhaps – and this is a big one – the end of Douglas Ross’s time at the head of the Scottish Tory group will see a change in the two most defining features of his leadership: a belligerent cantankerousness and a firm reliance on the spectre of independence.

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Under Ross, Conservative campaigning has had only one clear message: Vote for us because we are Unionists, not the SNP who are pro-independence.

Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson campaigning on a platform to stop indyref2 in the 2021 Holyrood elections (Image: PA)

In his 700-word speech announcing he would replace David Duguid as the candidate for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, Ross mentioned the SNP no fewer than 16 times.

That was four times as often as he mentioned the sick colleague he was ousting.

And, of course, Ross’s logic never extends to the opposite side. A vote for the Tories is always a vote for the Union, but a vote for the SNP is never a vote against it.

But then, a lack of critical thinking and self-reflection has been something of a hallmark of Ross’s time as Scottish Tory leader.

This was summed up by his resignation statement on Monday: “Should I be given the honour to represent the people and communities of this new seat, they should know being their MP would receive my complete focus and attention.

“I will therefore stand down as leader following the election on July 4, once a successor is elected. Should I win the seat, I will also stand down as an MSP."

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak lists 'forces of separatism in retreat' as a Tory 'achievement'

If he cannot give his “complete focus” to his job as an MP while also working as an MSP and Scottish Tory leader, what on earth has he been doing for the past three years?

The clear message – to anyone that stops for a second – is that Ross has not been giving his “complete focus” to any of his numerous jobs.

But Ross is moving on.

So, will the messaging from the Tories become more thoughtful? More about policy-based solutions to societal issues? Less reliant on simply being "not the SNP"? 

That, it seems, depends entirely on who gets the top job. And rumours are all pointing in one direction: Russell Findlay (below).

The former journalist has only been an MSP since 2021, when he was handed an all-but-guaranteed seat on the Tories’ West Scotland regional list.

As a frontbencher, he has leaned heavily into the exact same belligerence as Ross.

In April, SNP MSP Christine Grahame summed him up: “Russell Findlay … has apparently an insatiable appetite for the next tabloid banner headline with his self-indulgent, flamboyant, and frequently reckless contributions.”

Only “flamboyant” would not equally apply to Ross.