RUTH Davidson held a secret meeting with Douglas Ross just days before Jackson Carlaw resigned, The National can reveal.

On Tuesday night, the Edinburgh Central MSP denied there had been a “carve-up” and insisted she only pledged to help the Moray MP after Carlaw had quit the top job.

But eyewitnesses have told us they spotted the soon-to-be-peer on the road outside Ross’s house on Sunday July 26.

National reader Iona McPherson was holidaying at a caravansite nearby. She and her family were on a walk when they passed Davidson's car close to the MP's family home.

A spokesperson for Davidson confirmed the visit, and said it had been “in a personal capacity”.

The clandestine summit – and the fact that Ross met with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the same week – will only fuel speculation that Carlaw’s shock departure after less than six months in the post was anything but voluntary.

In his resignation statement last Thursday, the Eastwood MSP said that he had reached a “simple if painful conclusion” that he was “not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed” to lead the Tories into that contest.

In the immediate aftermath one Holyrood backbencher claimed he had been “pushed” out by Downing Street.

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”.

Ross later denied the claim.

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.”

In an interview with the BBC’s The Nine on Tuesday, Davidson was asked if there had been a plot to oust the Carlaw.

Speaking to journalist Martin Geissler about Ross, Davidson said: “He’s a real political talent, and, you know, he asked me if I would get on board, and help him and…”

“Before Jackson Carlaw resigned?” the show host asked.

“No, no, no, after,” Davidson insisted.

“What? There was about a two minute period,” an incredulous Geissler then pointed out.

“And I said I was happy to help,” Davidson replied.

The journalist pointed out that both Johnson and Gove had met with Ross ahead of Carlaw’s resignation.

“It smells like a carve up this, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“Well, you know I’m terribly sorry,” Davidson replied, “I don’t know what else to say apart from Jackson Carlaw resigned, Douglas has put his hat into the ring. I think he’s the best person for the job. I’m backing him and I’ll do all I can to help.”

An SNP spokeswoman: “This isn’t the first time that wannabe-Baroness Davidson has been caught out for bending the truth – this time to clear the way for a leadership coup.

“It’s no surprise that under the new leadership of untrustworthy Boris Johnson, the Tories are continuing their tradition of misleading the public to save face. 

“This confirms what we knew all along – the Tories simply can’t be trusted.”