Ross Thomson: More Thatcher-style hand-baggings please

Ross Thomson: More Thatcher-style hand-baggings please

In 2012 he became a councillor almost by accident and found himself on a political escalator that took him to Holyrood and then Westminster.

And although he admits it has happened quicker than he imagined, Ross Thomson has always wanted to be an MP in “the mother of all parliaments”. He admits it “sounds really cheesy” but says being an MP is almost like a calling. “You know if you want to be there and you think you can do something.”

Thomson was born in Aberdeen and is the leading Brexiteer in the new intake of Scottish Conservatives, now a caucus of 13 MPs after Theresa May’s snap general election last year.

But the 30-year-old began his political life unexpectedly when a Conservative candidate vying for a seat on Aberdeen City Council was de-selected by the party.

“Being elected as a councillor was a bit by fluke; I hadn’t been selected just as we were about to get into the campaign and they needed a new candidate.”

After winning the seat, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, encouraged him to stand for the Scottish Parliament, telling him she was on the lookout for talented people who could join her top team. So after one term as a councillor, he found himself elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 – and then just a year later he was the first Conservative to be elected MP for Aberdeen South since 1992, resulting in his arrival at Westminster. “There’s a lot to learn here, the procedures are complex and there’s a lot of very good people who have been here for a very long time.”

Many Tory MPs see the group as the silver-lining of their lost majority but after the election there was concern amongst Brexiteers that they might not be able to count on their support, owing their election victory in part to Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland and high-profile Remain campaigner.

Although only two other MPs in the Scottish Tory caucus publicly backed leaving the EU – Stephen Kerr and Alister Jack – Ross disagrees with this assessment.

“We don’t have any Anna Soubrys in the group and although Paul Masterton – who has probably one of the most Remain constituencies in Scotland – abstained on one of the votes, on the 35 or so votes prior to that on the EU Withdrawal Bill he had voted with the Government on every single one and subsequently he voted with the Government.”

“We hunt as a pack!”

The group meet together every fortnight and see the Chief Whip in between weeks. This link with the Government was to prove crucial at Budget time when they successfully lobbied the Chancellor to refund Scotland’s VAT bill for police and fire services. At the time, Ruth Davidson said they’d achieved more for Scotland in a few months than the SNP had managed in years.

Such was the support for the Scots Tories in the wider party, other Cabinet members were lobbying on their behalf, including Michael Gove who lobbied the Chancellor hard to back the group.

“We had to demonstrate that if you work with Government and you are constructive in your approach, you can get things done. The SNP had only ever whined and whinged and gnashed their teeth.”

After arriving in Parliament, Ross joined a number of groups like Conservative Way Forward, Conservative Voice and the eurosceptic European Research Group.

The ERG, founded in 1993 by Michael Spicer, is a group of backbench Conservatives whose original mission was to stem the tide of euro-integration after the Maastricht Treaty was signed. Now its aim is to support the Government in delivering the promises made in Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech.

Are you happy with the deal struck in the first phase of the Brexit talks?

“Genuinely yes… Coming forward with something and a deal at that stage that was welcomed across all factions of the party was pretty good.”

Couldn’t the Prime Minister have been a bit more like Thatcher and banged the table?

“Of course I’d love a bit of hand-bagging,” says Ross. “Who wouldn’t? Although the way that Mrs May operates publicly is different to Mrs Thatcher. But behind the scenes she has the same steel. There were those on the other side who said it wasn’t going to happen, and she got it. I’m behind the Prime Minister.”

Will there be a fight between the ERG and May?

“I welcome the phrase ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. It gives those of us who are worried that red lines are being crossed the option of saying that we don’t have to agree it until we see everything and we’re happy with everything.”

Is the alternative no deal?

“If it’s a crap deal that’s going to be detrimental to the UK or it isn’t going to give us the freeest possible access to trade, then we should be absolutely willing to say no and operate within WTO rules. We have to prepare to say no and to walk away. Genuinely the amount of contingency work that’s going into it means it’s a real scenario. It’s not the preferred option but people like Steve Baker, who’s very sound, is working on it.”

If we are still subject to ECJ rulings, would you want to walk away?

“It depends on the terms, for me that’s been one of those red lines, it sticks in my craw the fact that we’re subject to the ECJ and one of the great benefits of coming out the European Union is that we won’t be and decisions will be made by judges here in the United Kingdom.”

“Those of us on the Brexit side of the argument will obviously in some ways concede things to make sure that ultimately we get what we want. We’d have to look at the length of time that we’re subject to ECJ ruling, what the final deal is.

“We have red lines and being forever subject to decisions made in a foreign court is something which isn’t going to get the support of one side of the party. The Prime Minister’s obviously conscious of that.”

Who would make a good successor to the Prime Minister?

“There’s no vacancy. I genuinely think she’s the only one who can deliver the Brexit deal that we need. Is there anyone sitting around the Cabinet table just now that could do a better job or take us into the general election? I’m not convinced.”

“Why Theresa wants to be Prime Minister or how anyone would actually want to take over her job when you look at what she does and literally has no time to herself.

“Remember when she actually went to Brussels and got on a plane in the middle of the night, can you imagine doing that? Why would anyone want to do that voluntarily?

“There’s a lot of fresh talent that’s just come into government at the junior level. I think you might be surprised. There are people in that 2010-2015 intake with the potential to do that kind of job.”

How ambitious are you?

“I’m still trying to find my feet, having been here only seven months and I¬†already feel like I’m a really bad son, brother and grandson at the moment. If I take up a government job it means I get to spend less time at home and less time with my dog Poppy.”

“It did frustrate me that there seemed to be an attitude after the election that it didn’t matter what experience or what talents you’ve got, you’d be given a promotion based on how long you’d been here. To put it in the bluntest of terms you could be somebody who has been entrepreneurial, got great experience in a certain area, but because you’ve been here one year or two years the old fuddy-duddy guy that doesn’t exactly inspire people gets a job just in terms of¬†waiting 20-odd years rather than competency.

“What I actually liked about the last reshuffle was that the Government finally decided to embrace the talent that it’s got, it didn’t matter how long you’d served or how senior you were and we saw some new people brought very quickly into junior ministerial ranks… The party shouldn’t be constrained by what’s seen as convention or protocol; we should look at what’s going to bring us the greatest success.”