The National:

DESPITE having created a flagship policy of free school meals for his Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross abstained from a vote at Westminster to provide exactly that to kids across England.

Ross’s failure to vote hasn’t gone unnoticed north of the Border, with SNP MP Neil Gray branding him and his party “total hypocrites”.

However, the Scottish Tory leader has given some reasons for his abstention, reasons which the SNP’s Drew Hendry said “are all over the shop”.

Let’s look at them:

1: He wasn’t in London:

Douglas Ross claimed he could not vote on the school meals motion as he was in Scotland at the time.

He told The Courier: “I wasn’t in Westminster [on Wednesday]. I was in Scotland.”

However, there is a policy in place allowing MPs to vote by proxy if they cannot attend in person.

Of the MPs from various parties that voted for the Labour motion, 100 of them used proxy votes.

Of the Tory MPs that voted against the free meals motion, 63 used proxy votes.

2: He couldn’t get a proxy vote:

Ross also told The Courier: “The only way you can get a proxy vote in Westminster is for a Covid-related reason.”

This isn’t strictly true. The rules also allow for proxy voting for “new mothers, new fathers and adoptive parents”.

They do, however, state that proxies are otherwise only available to “members who are unable to attend at Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic”.

In practice though, these rules seem less strict. The SNP's Amy Callaghan was allowed to vote on the Internal Market Bill despite being unable to travel due to reasons unrelated to Covid.

READ MORE: Kirsty Strickland: Imagine that. Kids needing on food? Next they’ll want shelter

Tory MP Mark Francois was listed as being eligible for a proxy vote in early September with no reason forthcoming. He also voted by proxy against the Labour motion.  

The National has been unable to confirm that all 163 of the MPs who voted by proxy had strictly Covid-related reasons for doing so.

However, according to the SNP, if Ross wanted to vote by proxy “under current rules, it's only really if he had to leave suddenly, the same day, after business had started, that he'd be unable to”.

Ross told The Courier he had planned to be in Scotland “long before” the topic of the motion had even been decided.

A number of SNP MPs, including those from the constituencies which border Ross's, voted by proxy.

In an article published in today's Telegrpah (October 27), Ross does not mention either of these first two excuses.

3: English votes for English laws:

Asked why he had failed to vote for the motion on BBC 4’s Any Questions, Ross said: “I don’t vote on English-only policies.”

On September 23, 2020 Ross voted with the Conservative Government on five different amendments to their coronavirus policy. All of these amendments applied to England only.

On September 9, 2020 Ross voted against providing the Education Select Committee with information on the awarding of GCSE, A-Level and NVQ qualifications in 2020. This also affected England only.

Ross claimed that not voting on English-only legislation was a policy of his party. However, the other five Conservative MPs with constituencies in Scotland all voted against the school meals motion.

The BBC’s Chris Mason told Ross this meant “it’s not a policy”, adding: “It just sounds politically convenient.”

Furthermore, as Drew Hendry explained, the provision of free school meals in England would have had “millions of pounds of funding implications for Scotland”.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross's free school meals tweet comes back to haunt him after Commons vote

Hendry added: “Douglas Ross has tied himself in knots with this.

“His excuses for not voting to give starving kids a meal are all over the shop. He's at it and the whole of Scotland can see that.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson declined to comment beyond referring The National to the reasons Ross had already given.