Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross blamed Boris Johnson and the Partygate scandal for “very disappointing” results for the Tories in local elections across the UK.
Mr Ross said that voters had sent a clear message they were “unhappy” with both the prime minister and law-breaking parties – but also maintained that Mr Johnson should stay at No 10.
It comes as the Scottish Tory chief’s leadership appeared to come under threat, with colleagues pointing to his own “failed” handling of the Partygate scandal.
One Conservative MSP told the Daily Record that informal discussions have taken place about ditching Mr Ross after the party slumped to third place behind the SNP and Scottish Labour.
The Scottish Conservative leader previously made his own unhappiness with the PM clear, calling for him to step down as a result of the lockdown parties in Westminster.
But in a major U-turn, Mr Ross changed his stance, withdrawing a no-confidence letter demanding the PM’s resignation in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.
The unnamed MSP said: “I think the result is confirmation of a failed strategy. His strategy has definitely given us the worst of both worlds. I would not be surprised if he resigns himself.”
“He could have initially not put in a letter and simply castigated the prime minister. Having made his decision, he had to stick to it. It was a real lack of political judgement.”
Another Scottish Tory figure said the U-turn had been “idiotic”, while former MSP Adam Tomkins said Mr Ross “owns this, not Boris”, adding: “It was Douglas who U-turned, Douglas who flipped, and Douglas who backed the PM.”
But Mr Ross insisted on Saturday that his change of stance on Mr Johnson had not impacted on what he accepted were “disappointing” results.
The Scottish Tory leader said: “I don’t think, had I not changed my position in light of the atrocious conflict in Ukraine, it would have changed the situation, because voters I was speaking to were unhappy with the prime minister and unhappy with Partygate.
“Had I maintained my position despite the war in Europe, those voters would still have been unhappy with Partygate and still unhappy with the prime minister because he remains in post.”
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The Scottish Tories returned 214 councillors across Scotland – down from the record 276 the party achieved in 2017 – but Mr Ross insisted it was their “second best result for many, many years”.
He pointed to areas such as Aberdeenshire, Moray, South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders, where the Conservatives are the biggest party. But Mr Ross conceded: “Clearly, it wasn’t a good night and I am disappointed.”
Voters who had traditionally backed the Tories chose to “register a protest” by staying at home and not voting, Mr Ross said. “In this election they wanted to stay at home to register their protest and we’ve got to listen to that,” he added.
He insisted he could “hear their anger and frustration”, adding that Tory leaders across the UK should be “reflecting on the result”.
Earlier on Saturday education secretary Nadhim Zahawi urged Tory MPs not to move against the prime minister – saying Mr Johnson was still an electoral “asset”.
Asked about Mr Zahawi’s remarks, Mr Ross said: “He has to look at the losses received in many parts of the country.”