MICHELLE Ballantyne MSP has tonight quit the Scottish Conservatives over "differences" in party policy.

Ballantyne had hoped to become leader of the party earlier this year.

But she'll now see out her term as an independent.

The South Scotland MSP said she'd made up her mind over issues arising from last weekend's party conference.

Referring to new leader Douglas Ross and his predecessor Ruth Davidson, she stated: “It is with great sadness that I have decided to resign today from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

“That said, I recognise and respect the work Douglas, Ruth, and their team are putting in to re-shape the future of the Scottish Conservatives and the Party’s position going forward.

“However, as Douglas indicated in his address to our party conference, there are differences arising for some in the party’s positioning on policy and, indeed, its principles. Sadly, for me, this means I no longer feel that the party and I are a good fit.

“I have not taken this decision lightly and I wish both Douglas and Ruth, as well as all my colleagues, the very best going forward.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to represent my constituents across South Scotland as an independent MSP and champion local issues at Holyrood.

“While I may be leaving the Scottish Conservatives, I am not leaving the Scottish Parliament and my door remains open, as always, to my constituents.”  

In a joint statement, Ross and Holyrood group leader Davidson said: “We would both like to thank Michelle for her service to the Scottish Conservatives down the years.

“As well as her time on Scottish Borders Council and in the parliament, she has also been an active member of the voluntary party.

“We wish her well for the future.”

Ballantyne lost out on leadership to Jackson Carlaw in February. After his shock summer resignation, Ballantyne appeared on The Nine accusing party leaders in Westminster of having forced him out, saying:  “I think he must have been pushed.

“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.”

When asked about Ross as a replacement, Ballantyne said: “I do not like stitch ups, I do not like decisions that are planned in advance and foisted on people.

“If he’s running for leadership which he clearly intends to – I want to know what he’s committing to.”

Ballantyne has also been involved in other controversies, defending welfare cuts to families by saying those with low incomes “have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.”

Her exit from the Tory frontbench follows that of Oliver Mundell, who remains within the party but quit as rural economy and tourism spokesman after refusing to support rules restricting cross-border travel.

SNP chief whip George Adam MSP commented: “Six months out from an election and the Scottish Tories are in crisis. 

“In the space of a week, two prominent members of Baroness Davidson's frontbench at Holyrood have resigned. 

“With Boris Johnson the captain, it's no wonder that so many are jumping from this sinking Tory ship.”