• Annabel Goldie: 'Unionism will beat nationalism in Scotland'.
In a keynote speech in Edinburgh, Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie appeared to concede that the party was unlikely to make a major breakthrough in Scotland in the forthcoming general election.
But she insisted that winning seats here was not a prerequisite for a mandate to govern, as the Westminster election was British, not Scottish.
Opponents said her words were an admission the Tories were set to remain on the fringes of Scottish politics and, more damagingly, an assertion that Scottish votes did not matter. The SNP called her comments "anti-Scottish".
Ms Goldie told her audience at the Royal College of Surgeons: "If the Conservatives do win the next British general election and we have more seats in Scotland, some will try to argue that we have no mandate.
"Let me nail this nonsense now. This is a British general election, to elect a British government and a British prime minister. People in Scotland want devolution, but they also want to be part of Britain, and that means they want to be part of the Westminster democratic process.
"Whatever happens at this British general election, whoever wins, unionism will beat nationalism in Scotland."
She said it was "predictable" that the SNP, with its "obsession for independence", would claim the Tories had no mandate in Scotland. But, significantly, she also appealed to Labour not to return to its "nationalism with a small n" of the 1980s and 1990s, which, she argued, damaged the United Kingdom.
"I ask Labour what is more important to them – the short-term future of the Labour Party or the long-term future of the United Kingdom?" she said.
The speech comes at a time when Ms Goldie's leadership has been under scrutiny, with her party flatlining in the polls.
Questions have reportedly been asked by the UK leadership about why the party has recovered in Wales since the 1997 general election wipe-out, but made little progress in Scotland. There is only one Tory MP north of the Border.
Ms Goldie attempted to rally her members and candidates to do their bit to put David Cameron into No 10. "A vote in West Aberdeenshire is as important as a vote in West Devon," she said.
First Minister Alex Salmond has suggested the SNP may be willing to prop up a Tory government in Westminster should his party hold the balance of power.
But, at the same time, it has been clear the Nationalists intend to use any Tory government in Westminster as a means of driving a wedge into the Union and increasing support for independence.
Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, said: "For Annabel Goldie to say that the way Scotland votes in a general election doesn't matter shows the Tories up in their old anti-Scottish colours. It is a return to their North British roots – which was out of time decades ago – and will be enormously damaging to them in the election campaign."
Ms Goldie said the election would be the first in almost 20 years where the Tories had a "realistic opportunity" of winning.
But her comments on Scotland were taken as an admission that they will not make significant gains north of the Border – despite having a target of 11 seats.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said: "Annabel Goldie is accepting the inevitable – the Tories are going nowhere in Scotland."
A Labour spokesman said: "The problem the Conservatives face is not their lack of support in Scotland, but the fact that their policies and top faces remain deeply unpopular. David Cameron is less popular than even Margaret Thatcher was."