Jackson Carlaw has quit as leader of the Scottish Tories after less than six months in the job – declaring it is time for someone new to make the case for both the party and the Union.
Mr Carlaw said he had made the “painful decision” after realising he was not the best person to lead the party in the run-up to next May’s Holyrood election.
His departure – which was announced with immediate effect – leaves the Scottish Tories without a leader for the second time in a year, and with the Scottish Parliament election looming.
Mr Carlaw said stepping down at this time gives his successor time to prepare for that ballot, in which the SNP will be aiming for a record fourth Holyrood victory and a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament – a result which would only serve to increase calls for a second independence referendum.
There is now speculation that Douglas Ross, who served as an MSP before being elected to Westminster, and who served briefly as a Scotland Office minister – could run for the job.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute, saying Mr Carlaw has been a “tremendous servant to the Scottish Conservative Party for more than four decades”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also tweeted her best wishes, saying: “Leadership is a tough business and I’m sure his decision wasn’t easy.”
Mr Carlaw’s resignation comes almost exactly a year after Ruth Davidson quit as Scottish Tory leader.
The hunt to find her successor was delayed by December’s general election, with Mr Carlaw, who had been her deputy, serving as interim leader before being elected into the job in February.
In that ballot, he defeated the right-wing MSP Michelle Ballantyne by 4,917 votes to 1,581.
But in December’s general election, the Tories lost seats in Scotland, with the number of Conservative MPs from north of the border going from 13 to six.
Announcing the shock move, the Eastwood MSP said the summer had given him the “chance to think hard” about the position.
He said: “Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument. I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.
“In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion – that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections.”
He added: “Given the importance I attach to the job, I’ve therefore decided to stand down with immediate effect.”
Mr Carlaw said it had not been an “easy call”, but added: “I have spent a lifetime in politics holding to the maxim that party and country comes first.
“I believe I am doing my duty by holding to that view now.
“I simply believe that a new leader will be able, as we recover from the Covid emergency, to make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the union better than me. That is all that matters.”
He added: “Managing the transition from Ruth Davidson’s leadership to a refreshed party has been a challenging task but I feel confident that I leave the role with the party in good heart and, crucially, with time to elect a new leader so he or she can prepare for the elections next year.
“The Scottish Conservatives will fight those elections as we have always done – as the one party that will unequivocally speak up for all those Scots who do not want to go back to more division, but instead want our country to move on, as part of the United Kingdom, able to rise to the challenges of the future.
“I will fight that cause hard for these next few vital months as a loyal member of my party.”
Paying tribute to him, Mr Johnson said: “As an activist, deputy chairman, deputy leader and leader, he has given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.
“It is a mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time and I offer my best wishes to him, Wynne and the family.”