DOUGLAS Ross has rejected the claim Jackson Carlaw was forced to quit as Scottish Tory leader.

Thursday’s shock announcement that he was standing down after less than six months in the top job left most of his MSPs reeling, with seemingly none of them expecting it.

One Holyrood backbencher claimed he had been “pushed” out.

Michelle Ballantyne told BBC Scotland’s The Nine: “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”.

Yesterday, Ross – who is so far the only Tory seeking to replace Carlaw – rejected that analysis.

He told Times Radio: “Jackson took the decision after reflection over the last few weeks during the summer recess.

“I think it’s a measure of the man after four decades of dedicated service with the Scottish Conservatives that he realised he wasn’t the best person to take us forward into the important elections we have here in Scotland next May.

“I think he has reflected that his leadership didn’t take the party to where he wanted it to and it was time for someone new, someone fresh to take over – to take the challenge to the Scottish National Party who have been in government in Scotland since 2007.”

Ross looks set to be crowned leader of the Scottish Tories in the next 48 hours.

Anyone looking to challenge him for the position would need to secure the nominations of 100 long standing party members by noon on Wednesday. That now seems unlikely.

Yesterday, Ross – who as well as being the MP for Moray earns a substantial second income as an assistant referee – said he would bring forward a plan for jobs within the next month.

That led to appeals for him to back calls to extend the furlough scheme in Scotland, amid warnings of mass lay-offs.

Research published by the Fraser of Allander Institute last week found 12% of firms will have to make significant cuts to staff numbers, while 43% stated they would have to make redundancies when the scheme starts to wind down.

The Treasury has so far resisted calls to extend the support beyond October. Ross said: “The UK Government has done its bit – its furlough scheme has protected millions of jobs and kept tens of thousands of businesses alive.

“But the SNP Government’s response has been totally inadequate. My message to Nicola Sturgeon is this: you aren’t standing up for Scotland if you’re not standing up for Scottish jobs.”

Keith Brown, SNP deputy leader, said: “If Douglas Ross wants to talk about saving jobs and livelihoods, he should call on his colleagues at Westminster to extend the furlough scheme, and devolve key financial powers to Holyrood so that we can secure a strong recovery for Scotland.”