DOUGLAS Ross has said that his comments on gypsy travellers is one of his mistakes that have "come back to haunt" him.

The Scottish Tory leader, who is planning to return to Holyrood at May’s election, made the comments in an online conversation with the Bright Blue thinktank today.  

He said he "deeply regrets" the comment he made during a quick-fire Q&A he did for Core Politics shortly after being elected as an MP for Moray in 2017.

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Asked what he  would do if he was Prime Minister for a day, he had replied: “I would like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers."

The remark saw the 38-year-old accused of attacking an already persecuted minority.

Ross told Bright Blue chief executive Ryan Shorthouse today: “There are a multiple of better, different answers I could have given than the one I gave about a local issue here about enforcement against gypsy travellers.

“That’s something that still comes up. It was on my Twitter feed the other day.

“I deeply regret my answer to that question and the way it was interpreted, and I said that at the time.

"It was a big local issue, it continues to be a big local issue here in Moray every summer. But it’s never something I should have answered as my top priority if I had one day as Prime Minister.

“But that’s just one example.

"I’ve said things, I’ve done things that if I had my time again I would have gone in a different direction, but we don’t have the benefit of hindsight in politics.

“We have to be open and accept our mistakes and learn from them and move on.

“I think politicians who are willing to do that, who are willing to accept they made a mistake, they don’t try to bury bad news and paper over the cracks and hope no one notices, just be upfront and honest with people. 

“My honesty has sometimes got me into trouble as well both with my party and for myself, but I think people just want honesty from politicians. You say what you think and you’lll correct it and you won’t do it again.”

Ross was asked about whether there were mistakes in his political career which he looked back on with regret and wanted to share.

He said: “Yes, loads. I mean, almost every week I’m thinking, ‘God, could I have done that differently? Did I listen to this piece of advice? Should have I done that?’

“When I was a minister you have to make decisions.

“I was a junior minister in the Scotland Office, and you’re looking at things and thought, ‘Could I have done this better? Was that a mistake?’

“I don’t think any politician should ever say they have never made a mistake. 

“I’ve said things in speeches that I’ve gone to regret. 

“I’ve answered quick fire questions that have come back to haunt me. 

“So through out my political career there have been things I would have done differently.

“I’d be pretty disappointed if you asked any politician that if they made mistakes and they said they hadn’t.”

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Asked whether the Scottish Conservatives might stop using the “SNP term” independence and switch to using “leaving the UK” instead, Mr Ross said: “I think there’s a point there.

“I tend to use the word separation, separating from the rest of the United Kingdom.

“Because independence, the word itself, is quite a positive word.

“When you’re younger you want to become independent and move away from home and start off in life. When you’re older you want to remain independent as long as you can.

“I can understand why that word has more positive connotations than separation.

“But I think whatever we’re speaking about, it is about ripping apart the United Kingdom, and that i what the SNP want to do and I want to stop it.”

Ross, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, also admitted that the UK-EU trade deal signed by Boris Johnson was generating extra bureaucracy despite the Prime Minister claiming it meant there would be “no non-tariff barriers to trade”.

Referring to the need for more financial aid for Scotland’s fishing industry, he said:  “Coastal communities and fishing communities need our support. 

“The Brexit deal didn’t deliver for them in the way they had hoped, and there have been significant problems in terms of bureaucracy and added paperwork that continue to need to be resolved.

“Until we can do that, then we will need to continue to support them, but I’m pretty sure the Chancellor is looking at how that support is being spent now and we might have to come back to this.

“But I will keep challenging and fighting for the fishing communities in the north east of Scotland and other parts of the country.”

he said there were people who had voted No in 2014 and Remain in 2016 who were now thinking of backing independence.

He said: “I think clearly getting a deal with the EU on Christmas Eve last year was positive for many of these people because they were worried about a No Deal Brexit. They were reassured.

“I accept, for our exporters, there are too many delays still. There has been progress but it’s still an issue. There’s too much bureaucracy and we’ve got to get to the bottom of that.

“It’s not the fault of the fishermen or the exporters, it is the fault of the Government at the Scottish level because we’ve had issues at Larkhall, with the [food export] hub, and at the UK level with the bureaucracy that was added in, and we’ve got to resolve that.” 

But he claimed Brexit had been a help in the rapid rollout of Covid vaccines and this week’s suspension of US tariffs from Scotch whisky and cashmere.