Liberal Democrats are campaigning with a “spring in our steps”, Sir Ed Davey said as he insisted the party can make gains across Scotland.
The UK Lib Dem leader, who will make his second Holyrood campaign visit to Scotland next week, said he has detected a “mood change” amongst the public, claiming voters are preparing to reject both the SNP and the Conservatives.
He claimed support for the SNP is “softer than people remember it for over a decade”.
With a recent poll showing support for independence has dropped to 42%, he added: “If support for independence is falling that rapidly you can be pretty confident that the SNP vote will fall with it.”
Sir Ed also claimed voters who previously backed the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson are being put off by Douglas Ross and Boris Johnson, as he told how the Prime Minister is now “mired in scandal”.
The Lib Dems are fighting to win the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat from the SNP, where their candidate Molly Nolan is up against Scottish children’s minister Maree Todd.
Sir Ed said Labour and Tory voters in the area are increasingly realising it is a “two-horse race” between his party and Nicola Sturgeon’s.
He said the Liberal Democrats also hope to pick up more seats through the regional list system, arguing a small change in voting behaviour could see the party gain “three, four, five” MSPs across the country.
Sir Ed declared: “It is possible for us, even with a small change in the votes as they fall, to win seats in every region.
“I’m not making predictions, it’s been such a weird campaign. But be in no doubt, we are increasingly optimistic we can make gains in many of the list seats.”
He said he believes his party is “in tune” with voters “when we say put recovery first”, adding: “We are beginning to see people responding in bigger numbers to that on the doorstep.
“We want to stop the SNP in areas like Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, we want to stop other parties that are putting independence before other things, like the Green Party.
“But we are also an anti-Conservative party, always have been always will be. So yes we want to take votes off the Conservatives, of course we do.
“We actually think the mood swing isn’t just against the SNP, it is against the Conservatives. It is Boris Johnson’s scandals, which I don’t think will be welcomed by former Conservative supporters, but also I think Douglas Ross has gone down very badly, he’s been quite a dark figure, his overall tone has put Conservatives off. He’s just not a patch on Ruth Davidson.
“I just think we therefore have an opportunity, with the Tories being very poorly led, with Boris Johnson being such a disaster, that we can take votes from the Conservatives.”
His comments came as he insisted those who back any of the three pro-independence parties – the SNP, the Greens and the new Alba Party – risk undermining Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus.
Sir Ed argued that “just like with Brexit, a second independence referendum would be very damaging to recovery”.
He said: “Who is going to invest in Scotland when there is uncertainty about the political future?
“At a time when Scotland is trying to recover from the pandemic, trying to recover from Brexit, I can’t think of anything worse.
“Even if you delayed six months, 12 months, 18 months, the threat is there, it will kill the recovery.
“This has been the worst recession for over 300 years, the worst health crisis for over 100 years. People have got to understand how serious this is. Our economy, our lives, have been cushioned because of the big interventions that have been made, rightly, but it is going to be tough. There are tough times ahead still.
“We can’t afford the division of a second independence referendum. We can’t afford to undermine the recovery. But if you vote SNP, or Green, or Alba, you are voting to undermine the recovery, because you are voting for people who support a second independence referendum. If you vote Liberal Democrat you are going to stop that.”
Keith Brown, SNP depute leader, said: “The Lib Dems are obsessed with talking themselves up when in reality people across Scotland are focused on the need for experienced and effective leadership to get us through and out of the pandemic, and know that they will only get that with the SNP.
“From selling out Scotland for ministerial seats with the Tories, to betraying Scotland’s students and now becoming a Brexiteer party that refuses to argue for Scotland to get back into Europe, the Lib Dems have nothing left to offer people across Scotland.”