A SCOTTISH Tory MSP who sparked outrage by suggesting people on benefits should not have as many children as they want is preparing to run for the party leadership.

Michelle Ballantyne said she will put her name forward for the contest if she gets the 100 nominations from party members she requires, it emerged yesterday.

The battle to become Ruth Davidson’s successor will begin this week, with nominations for the leadership opening on Monday.

Many Tory MSPs reportedly want a coronation for interim leader Jackson Carlaw, to avoid a contest in the run-up to the Holyrood elections.

But Ballantyne has said a leadership contest is necessary to give members their say over the party’s future.

READ MORE: Scots Tory Ballantyne blasted for attack on benefit claimants

She said: “Fundamentally, I think it’s important we have a leadership contest.

“It’s not about who wins. It’s about ensuring we have a democratic mandate for that decision.

“I do think it’s important to have that democratic exercise and ensure those who will have the right to vote are able to exercise that vote.”

However SNP MSP George Adam said yesterday: “Michelle Ballantyne’s track record of outrageous comments has shown that she is completely out of touch with the struggles that a huge number of people in our country face thanks to the heartless actions of the Tory UK Government.”

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In 2018, Ballantyne provoked a furious backlash when she defended the so-called rape clause during a Holyrood debate on poverty and inequality.

The South Scotland MSP and party spokesman for social security said: “It is fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don’t claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.

“Fairness is fairness to everybody, not to one part of the community.”

SNP MSPs called on her to stand down as Scottish Tory welfare spokeswoman, while Nicola Sturgeon described her view as “shameful”, saying: “The idea that being poor should be a barrier to having a family is Dickensian and I think shows the Scottish Conservatives in their true colours.”

Ballantyne refused to apologise or back down, but was cautioned by Carlaw who was standing in as temporary leader for the party at that time while Davidson was on maternity leave.

He said he had spoken to her over the remarks, which he described as “clumsy”.

Ballantyne was also criticised at the beginning of 2019 after claiming the Bedroom Tax – which was introduced by the Tories and cut housing benefit for those with a spare room – does not exist.

When SNP deputy leader Keith Brown asked if she was committed to mitigating the policy in Scotland she replied: “There’s no such thing as a ‘bedroom tax’, so I wouldn’t even go down that route.”

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She later claimed she was only questioning the name of the tax.

Ballantyne also caused controversy during a Scottish Parliament debate on health in April when she said she would be “quite happy” if governments had nothing to do with running the NHS.

The former nurse said: “I don’t think we should use [the NHS] as a political football.

“In fact, as somebody who has spent a lot of time in the NHS, I would be quite happy if government had nothing to do with the running of the NHS, quite frankly. That will never ever happen because of the money around it but it should be run by the people who know best.”

Her comments were seized upon by opponents who claimed it was proof the Tories would privatise the health service.

Carlaw, who has been interim leader since Davidson’s resignation in August, is favourite to win the role permanently. Nominations close on January 17 and a contest will begin if there are two or more candidates.