Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross was accused of making “prejudiced” comments about Travellers as he faced his political rivals during the latest Holyrood election debate.

Mr Ross was grilled by Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie over remarks he had made against the “long-persecuted community”.

Asked in 2017 what he would do if he was prime minister for a day, Mr Ross had replied: “I would like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers.”

During Tuesday night’s STV debate, Mr Harvie told “I want to suggest to you that you’ve built your political career on divisive language … Is it your whole party that is prejudiced against Gypsy Travellers, or just you?”

Mr Ross said his remarks “were wrong”, adding: “It was the wrong answer to the question that was well put. I should have answered it far better.”

Other comments made by the Scottish Tory leader when he was a Moray councillor in 2013 were unearthed by the Open Democracy website on Tuesday.

“I am disappointed and frustrated that we seem to have to bend over backwards for this ethnic minority,” Mr Ross was quoted saying about approval for a Travellers’ site in Moray.

A spokesperson for the party said: “This historic comment was about a situation where a constituent suffered heavily financially, which Douglas felt was wrong, and he argued on his constituent’s behalf.”

Mr Ross also came under attack from the new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during the TV debate, accusing the Conservatives of seeking to “talk up division, because you want to gain votes”.

Mr Sarwar again attempted to positioned himself between SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Ross – suggesting they both remained obsession with the independence question.

“Covid did not choose between yes [or] no, leave or remain,” said Mr Sarwar. “And the aftermath is not going to choose between yes [or] no, leave or remain. I want us to focus on a recovery.”

Ms Sturgeon again argued that Scots should get another vote on whether Scotland should break from the UK when the Covid crisis was over.

She said the last year had been “tough” as a result of the pandemic. “I’m asking you to re-elect me as first minister so I can help steer us back to better times … And yes, when the crisis is passed, offering you the choice of independence.”

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