Ruth Davidson claimed the Conservatives have a chance of unseating Alex Salmond as she took her anti-indyref message into the former SNP leader’s back yard yesterday.
The Conservative leader travelled to Inverurie in the heart of Salmond’s Gordon constituency and claimed that her party’s local election surge indicated that his seat was a realistic target.
Salmond was added to a Tory list of key SNP scalps which already includes the party’s depute leader, Angus Robertson, and Pete Wishart, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster.
“We won the local government election in Gordon this week, beating the SNP into second place,” the Conservative leader said.
“It means that in this seat, as in many others, it is a two-horse race between us and the Nationalists. It’s between a Scottish National Party that will take us back to more division and instability and a Scottish Conservative Party that will fight against another referendum so we can all move on together.”
The Conservatives emerged as the largest party in the Aberdeenshire Council count, taking 23 seats, compared with 21 for the SNP.
Analysis carried out by the Conservatives suggests that they were the most popular party in Gordon, which comes within the Aberdeenshire Council boundaries.
Last night a Tory source said: “Alex Salmond can’t take anything for granted in this election. We are parking our tanks on Alex Salmond’s lawn.”
The election saw the Conservatives more than double its councillors to 276, a performance which has seen senior Tories call on Nicola Sturgeon to ditch her proposal for a second referendum.
But campaigning in Glasgow, the SNP leader dismissed as “ludicrous” any claims that the surge in Tory support could derail her indyref2 bid.
“I’ve heard lots of ludicrous arguments in my time in politics but this takes the prize for the most ludicrous argument.”
Sturgeon has argued that her mandate for a second referendum derives from the Holyrood vote in favour of one and pointed out that her party had won the local election. The SNP remains the largest party in local government with 431 councillors voted in, up slightly from its total of 425 in 2012.
Sturgeon claimed she was confident the SNP will be able to hold on to the key constituencies targeted by the Conservatives.
As well as Salmond’s Gordon seat, the Tories have Robertson’s Moray constituency and Wishart’s Perth and North Perthshire seats in their sights.
Sturgeon said: “We take nothing for granted but I’m confident that the strength of these local candidates will win through,” she said. “And as for the general election, while you’ve always got to be careful about extrapolating from one election to another, the issue for Scotland becomes quite clearly focused. The question for Scotland is, do we want to make sure we’ve got strong voices standing up for Scotland providing opposition to the Tories?”
She admitted the Conservatives in Scotland had “a good day by their standards”, with the party returning a record number of councillors north of the border.
But she insisted the SNP had “won this election comfortably” with her party ending up with “more votes, more seats, more councils where we are the largest party, not just compared with every other party but compared with five years ago”.
Sturgeon said: “Yes, the Tories made gains and had a good performance by their standards – but that support came from Labour not the SNP, so Labour and the Tories are fighting it out for second place while the SNP continues to be comfortably in first place.”