Ruth Davidson has predicted that June’s general election will demonstrate the SNP is “a party going downhill” as she attempts to use voter opposition to a second independence referendum to win a series of former Scottish Tory strongholds.
Writing in the Telegraph, the Scottish Tory leader predicted the Nationalists will “struggle” to repeat their 2015 achievement of winning 56 out of 59 Scottish seats and said “plenty of SNP MPs will now be looking over their shoulder.”
She said Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for another independence vote last month “was supposed to have sent the UK Government into a tailspin” but instead demonstrated “just how out of touch” the SNP has become.
Ms Davidson said the “Nationalist caravan” has always claimed to be on the up over the past decade but it was much more “vulnerable” than in 2015 and could be brought to a “halt” on June 8.
Her intervention came after the Prime Minister indicated she would put support for the Union at the centre of her Scottish election campaign by stating she would be making the case “for the future of the United Kingdom as a United Kingdom.”
Senior party sources listed as targets a series of largely rural Scottish seats, all of which are held by the SNP but saw large swings to the Conservatives in last year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
But Professor John Curtice, Britain’s leading psephologist, warned Mrs May that she will have to win a Commons majority without much help from Scotland as the SNP is still around 20 points ahead in the polls.
He predicted the Nationalists could win 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats, with the latest polls showing the Tories going up from one to four. Labour and the Liberal Democrats also currently have one Scottish seat each.
Ms Sturgeon said the election would “once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda” but dodged questions over whether her party performing worse than in 2015 would undermine her case for a second referendum.
Regardless of the result, it is understood Mrs May will refuse to budge from her refusal to allow another independence vote until the Brexit negotiations have been completed and Scots can see how it has bedded in.
Ms Davidson said: “Make no mistake – the SNP is still the dominant force in Scotland, and it will be a massive challenge for my party to take the fight to them ahead of June 8.
“But this is a much more vulnerable party than it was in 2015. And it is now a rejuvenated Scottish Conservative party which is prepared to lead the charge.”
Speaking to ITV News, the Prime Minister said: “This Union we have between Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales is a very precious union, I think we all benefit by it. I will unashamedly be out there campaigning for the future of the United Kingdom as a United Kingdom.”
Among the Tories’ key Scottish targets are Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, where the SNP’s Calum Kerr has a majority of only 308, and Dumfries and Galloway.
They will also focus on Perthshire and North Perthshire, Ochil and South Perthshire, Angus, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and even Moray, the seat held by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader.
Ms Sturgeon argued that her mandate for another independence referendum derives from last year’s Holyrood election but argued that a Nationalist victory on June 8 would reinforce it.
Claiming that the election was a “huge political miscalculation” by Mrs May, she said: “This election will be about the kind of country we want Scotland to be and whether we want the Tories to have a free hand in determining that or whether we want to make sure that we stand up for Scotland's public services, for public spending against further Tory austerity."
Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, said she would “work tirelessly to elect Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister and deliver a Labour government."