THIS week we start a four-part series interviewing the leaders of the four main parties standing in the Dumbarton constituency, which covers Helensburgh and Lomond, by speaking to the Scottish Conservatives' leader Douglas Ross.

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MODERN political reporting requires any profile to confirm to readers what you already know: a given politician either walks on water, or is scum of the earth.

We requested interviews of the leaders of Scotland’s four main constituency parties.

Scottish Conservatives offered up Douglas Ross MP first, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie of the LibDems and Labour’s Anas Sarwar all to follow in the coming weeks.

Mr Ross’s pitch to voters is well-rehearsed: that Scotland should focus on recovery from the pandemic, not another independence referendum. He mentions “referendum” nearly a dozen times in 30 minutes.

But in arguing how divisive the 2014 vote was, what makes him think he could be a first minister for all of Scotland, not just Conservative voters?

“We have ambitious plans to protect jobs for the whole of our country,” he says by phone.

“It’s about investing in education, and that can be a priority for absolutely everyone to see the opportunities for our next generation.

“Ensuring our NHS is supported is something that is not divided between people’s political views.

“So these are all policies, whatever people’s views on the constitution, that people can get behind as a way of improving our country and rebuilding after the pandemic.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh and Lomond's candidates have their say on health

Mr Ross supports Ms Sturgeon’s pledge to call a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in the past year, but argues that it should have been held sooner.

He welcomes the 4 per cent pay rise for nurses in Scotland, but says that other front line workers should also be recognised.

When asked whether his party’s leader in Westminster, PM Boris Johnston, is correct to offer just one per cent, he says it’s a different system of pay offered down south. And he says it’s key to speak to unions and discuss proposals with them.

That perceived gap between how Scotland and how England have handled Covid-19 extends beyond just a pay offer.

But Mr Ross sees faults - and success - on all levels.

“There have been mistakes made by all governments,” he says. “It’s absolutely right that we learn lessons. And I say that not targeting one government or one political party - everyone’s got to learn lessons.

“However, we’ve also got to look at the positives, and the positives have undoubtedly been our vaccination scheme in the UK and in Scotland.

“But that’s only been possible because the UK as a family of four nations procured and started to develop vaccines, and we’re now seeing the benefits of that compared to many other countries around the world.”

So is Mr Ross saying Scotland wouldn’t have the expertise or capacity for vaccines if it was independent?

The Scottish Tory leader redirects the question to the SNP plan for Scotland to rejoin the EU and the significant problems across Europe with vaccination roll out.

READ MORE: The latest Helensburgh and Lomond headlines

Scotland’s capacity for making stuff has a long history of being broken by UK Conservatives, from shipyards to other heavy industry. I ask Mr Ross if the west of Scotland still had the capacity to retool to make, for example, personal protective equipment (PPE), or whether the Tories have cost it all.

“I would say absolutely the west of Scotland has that ability and we have seen that,” he says. “I was in Glasgow earlier speaking to the Scottish apprentice of the year who won because, like school pupils across the country, he looked at the facilities they had in their business and turned that into a 3D printing of visors for NHS staff.

“So in the west of Scotland and across the country, we see people really respond and respond so positively.”

Mr Ross says his party has ambitious plans to protect people’s jobs and offer £500 to every adult to either upskill or acquire new skills getting back into work after the economic crisis of the pandemic.

The Conservatives have also pledged to scrap automatic early release of prisoners - a policy they created decades ago and has long been criticised, but without it ever being halted. Similarly, pledges are again being made to scrap or overhaul council tax in Scotland.

Mr Ross says they will not touch council tax in the next parliament, arguing Scots need stability, not yet another false promise that it will be scrapped.

He then turns it back to a future independence referendum, that the discussion of it and government’s agenda in parliament prevents justice reform and council tax reform from being acted upon.

“It’s distracted Scotland from improving education too”, says Mr Ross. He says 3,000 new teachers should be hired in the next five years to counter the cuts to teacher numbers under the SNP.

He says: “Nicola Sturgeon said judge her on her number one priority, which was supposedly education. And I think anyone who has looked at the SNP’s record in education, they will conclude that it’s not been a priority.”

Local authorities, who deliver education, have continually pressed the Scottish Government for more funding over the past decade. And Edinburgh has blamed 10 years of Tory austerity in London for Scotland not having the cash it needs or deserves.

“No, these are political decisions that the SNP have taken,” insists Mr Ross.

“We know that the Scottish Government’s budget is at the highest ever levels in devolution. So they have more money here in Scotland.

“Education is fully devolved. It’s under the remit of the SNP and the failure within education and our fall down the international rankings is on the SNP’s watch. And they have to be held accountable for that.”

So there is no financial responsibility to lay at Westminster’s door for money available for education?

Again, Mr Ross points to the record budget for the Scottish Government in the past year. When asked what priorities could be changed in Scottish spending to benefit education, he says another independence referendum will take time and resources away from senior civil servants and other issues.

He says there has also been millions wasted on infrastructure projects, such as the botched new Edinburgh hospital.

“We have excellent candidates across the west of Scotland,” he sums up his party’s pitch.

Voters can have their say on the quality of candidates and leadership vision come May 6.