Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross moved to distance his party from the row erupting south of the border by declaring free school meals for children will not encourage dependency.
Mr Ross said he abstained on Wednesday night’s vote on children’s school meals, put forward at Westminster by Labour, because he was in Scotland.
He said a proxy vote would have only been given to him had he a coronavirus-related absence.
Gov has lots of responsibilities: supporting the vulnerable, helping people to help themselves, balancing the books. Not as simple as you to make out Marcus. Extending FSM to sch hols passes responsibility for feeding kids away from parents, to the State. It increases dependency. https://t.co/AGelqU78sz
— Ben Bradley MP (@BBradley_Mans) October 21, 2020
Asked if he agreed with Conservative MPs like Ben Bradley, who became embroiled in an online argument with Manchester United star Marcus Rashford after saying free school meals would breed “dependency”, Mr Ross said “no”.
The newly elected leader has introduced a number of new policies to the party regarding education he admits might not be seen as traditional Tory policies, including the introduction of free school meals for children and scrapping university tuition fees.
In an exclusive interview he told us: “I wasn’t in Westminster (on Wednesday). I was in Scotland. The only way you can get a proxy vote in Westminster is for a Covid-related reason.
“I had planned to come back long before the opposition debate subject had been decided, therefore I wasn’t in Westminster and was not able to vote.
“This was also an issue for England only.
“The proposals put forward would only affect England. The proposals I have put forward would see all primary school pupils have the chance to take up free school lunch and a breakfast at the start of the day too.
“I really hope political parties across Scotland will unite behind that, because there is compelling evidence around the world this is the right thing to do and I would like to see that introduced in Scotland.
“If the parties agree with me and agree with what is put forward then I hope we can have a vote on that in the Scottish Parliament and we can deliver that for young people.”
Mr Ross had previously said his policy idea of free school meals for primary 1, 2 and 3 pupils might not be one usually associated with Conservative Party members.
He denied having to further convince other Scottish Tory MPs, after they all voted against the Labour amendment on free school meals for children down south over the holiday period.
He added: “Our manifesto for the Scottish elections in May will provide that commitment. I want to see other parties in Scotland matching our aspiration for young people.
“The policy put forward by Labour at Westminster was just for England and was for the holiday period.
“The UK Government put forward their rationale in terms of the extra support provided through the social security system to protect families during this pandemic.
“I’ve said time and again I want to develop policies for the Scottish Conservatives we can deliver to schools here in Scotland and anyone looking at those can see that ambition.
“There were five rebels. I am not against rebelling against the government myself, as you know I did it just the other week.
“But on this issue it was England only and we have a clear policy in Scotland I hope all parties can get behind.”
SNP work and pensions spokesperson Neil Gray MP said: “This was a key test of leadership for Douglas Ross and he has failed abysmally.
“The Scottish Tories are total hypocrites for voting against free school meals despite previously claiming to support them. They are trying to hoodwink voters with false promises by saying one thing then doing the complete opposite when instructed by Boris Johnson.
“People in Scotland will not be fooled. By voting to deprive children of food, Scottish Tory MPs have also voted to deprive Scotland of crucial Barnett funding – leaving the SNP government to fund Scotland’s progressive free school meals policy from existing budgets.
“The fact is you cannot trust a word the Scottish Tories say. They have shown time and again that they are incapable of standing up for Scotland, and will always do Downing Street’s bidding regardless of the damage it causes – just like they have on Brexit and devastating Tory austerity cuts.”