MICHELLE Ballantyne has been unveiled as the leader of Nigel Farage's Reform Party in Scotland.

Speaking this morning, the MSP for South Scotland said it would work to "champion personal choice, community response and local networks".

She added: "Our policies will reflect these values and respect the basic rights of freedom of thought, speech and worship."

Ballantyne quit the Scottish Conservatives in November, after differences with the party's support for lockdown.

The National:

Michelle Ballantyne pictured with former Tory leader Jackson Carlaw   Photo Getty

Ahead of today's lauch Keith Brown, SNP depute leader, said: “The Reform Party and its toxic brand of politics is not welcome here in Scotland. Voters north of the border rejected the right wing isolationism of UKIP and The Brexit Party and I am confident that they reject this lot too.”

Lorna Slater, Scottish Greens co-leader also hit out: “The Brexit Party may have changed its name to Reform, but it’s still the same Trump supporters in charge.

“This is the same far-right party with new branding and this time they are promoting dangerous coronavirus conspiracies.

“The people of Scotland have repeatedly rejected Nigel Farage’s parties in all their forms, and his Brexit project too, and I’m confident that they’ll comprehensively reject him once again in May.”

Responding to the criticisms, Reform Party chairman Richard Tice said: "History shows we only make progress by challenging the status quo, the consensus. If we don’t have challenge and open debate then we live in a one-party dictatorship and no progress is ever made."

READ MORE: Reform Party's attack on Holyrood Covid 'lockdown consensus' slammed

Ballantyne quit the Tories over its “positioning on policy and, indeed, its principles” and later attacked her former party for agreeing with the Scottish Government’s lockdown plans.

She later said the final straw “was watching fellow Tories line up behind Nicola Sturgeon to put half of Scotland into level 4 lockdown” with “scant regard for jobs, social isolation and risking deaths not directly linked to Covid-19”.

A strong supporter of Brexit, Ballantyne stood against Jackson Carlaw in the Tory leadership election last year. She lost out to the Eastwood MSP, who was replaced  just months later with current Moray MP Douglas Ross.

First elected to Holyrood in 2016, she soon became a controversial figure, provoking outrage by suggesting that people on benefits should not have as many children as they want.

As the Scottish Tory's welfare spokeswoman she defended the so-called "rape clause" which caps the number of children receiving benefits at two per family, except in circumstances where the mother has been raped.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament in 2018, Ballantyne 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."

Ballantyne, who has six children, accepted she had received child benefit for her children but not the benefits many others receive.

She refused to back down or apologise, despite her comments inciting anger from other members.

Tom Arthur, an SNP MSP, said at the time: "In my two and a half years in this parliament, the contribution from Michelle Ballantyne was one of the most disgraceful speeches I have ever heard.

"Six minutes of pompous Victorian moralising, that would have been better suited to the pages of a Dickens novel.

"And to suggest that poverty should be a barrier to a family, that people who are poor are not entitled to any more than two children — what an absolutely disgraceful position.

"She should be utterly, utterly ashamed of herself."

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, said outside the parliament chamber: "These comments by Michelle Ballantyne are abhorrent and show the true views held by senior Tory MSPs — nasty and archaic."