Scottish Conservatives pick new leader as key election looms

LONDON (AP) — Scotland’s Conservative Party appointed a new leader on Wednesday as it prepares to fight an election next year against the dominant Scottish Nationalist Party.

Douglas Ross said the party’s first goal must be “earning the trust of people looking for a positive and credible alternative for Scotland.”

Ross was a minister in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s U.K. government until he stepped down in protest in May after Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings broke coronavirus lockdown rules by driving 250 miles (400 kilometers) to a family home.

Previous Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw quit last week after six months in the job, saying the party needed someone “younger and fresher” to take on the SNP and try to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom.

The Conservatives have a majority in Britain’s Parliament in London, but are an opposition party in the semi-autonomous, Edinburgh-based Scottish Parliament.

The SNP currently governs Scotland, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has won praise for her level-headed handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She has struck a more sober and cautious note than Johnson, who is widely unpopular in Scotland.

An election for the Scottish Parliament is due in May, and Sturgeon plans to campaign on a demand for a new referendum on independence from the U.K., with polls suggesting support for secession is rising.

Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation choice, and Johnson says he will not agree to a new referendum.

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