The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has suggested that voters should get behind the “strongest candidate to beat the SNP” in their area ahead of next year’s general election.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Ross hinted that Scottish unionists should vote tactically against the nationalist party, adding: “I will always encourage Scottish Conservative voters to vote Scottish Conservative, but I think generally the public can see, and they want the parties to accept, that where there is the strongest candidate to beat the SNP, you get behind that candidate.

“If parties maybe look a bit beyond their own narrow party agenda to what’s best for the country… what would be best is if we see this grip that the SNP has on Scotland at the moment loosened, and we see a change coming.”

Labour are hoping to make inroads in dozens of Scottish seats in next year’s Westminster election, with the SNP currently in chaos amid a police investigation over its finances.

Opinion polls suggest the Scottish Conservatives remain a distant third across Scotland – with polling in the past fortnight putting the SNP on 36 per cent, Labour on 31 per cent, and the Scottish Conservatives on 19 per cent.

While gains in Scotland could give Labour a major boost towards Downing Street, one Tory source told the newspaper they would “prefer” Keir Starmer to be prime minister with a majority than see him reliant on the SNP for support in exchange for an independence referendum.

Scottish Labour last week slapped down talk of a reciprocal voting pact with the Tories.

A Scottish Labour source told i it would not countenance any such pact. “We never have and we never will. The Tories remain the biggest threat to the Union,” they added.

Labour worked with the Tories in Scotland on the pro-UK ‘Better Together’ campaign in 2014, and party figures have long believed the arrangement dented the party’s support.

Anas Sarwar, who has attempted to revive Labour’s fortunes in Scotland since becoming Scottish Labour leader in 2021, has sought to maintain distance from both the SNP and Scottish Conservatives in a bid to thread the needle of appealing to disparate groups of voters.

He said last year: “We shouldn’t be picking and choosing which is the good versus the bad. Both are bad for our country. Both are decimating local communities. And therefore I think it’s right that we see no formal coalition with the SNP or the Tories.”

The UK Conservative Party also rejected Mr Ross’s call for tactical voting on Sunday.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “This is emphatically not the view of the Conservative Party. We want people to vote for Conservative candidates wherever they are standing as that’s the best way to keep Labour and the SNP out.”

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