The Tories will make a “Herculean effort” to bring the SNP “back down to size”, Ruth Davidson will vow today, as her resurgent party launches its Scottish general election campaign.
The Scottish Conservative leader will start her campaign in Edinburgh, riding high on the back of winning 161 seats in last week’s local elections and cementing her party’s status as the main opposition to the SNP.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, will warn that Scotland’s “jobs and interests” will suffer if Theresa May wins next month’s election with an increased majority at Westminster, as polls predict.
However, the SNP leader faced accusations from Labour yesterday that she acted as a “recruiting sergeant” for the Tories with her demands for a second referendum on independence.
Ms Davidson will urge supporters to “double” their efforts on the election stump.
“We have a massive fight on our hands against an all- powerful SNP,” she will say. “We go into this election with one seat. They go into it with 54 – and most of them with large majorities.
“Even to challenge the nationalists in some of these seats is going to take a Herculean effort. Make no mistake, we are the underdogs.
“But we also know this. The SNP is not Scotland. And people across this country don’t take kindly to Nicola Sturgeon pretending the opposite is true. Across Scotland, it’s a two-horse race.”
Ms Davidson said she will target the seats of SNP heavy- weights Alex Salmond in Aberdeenshire, Angus Robertson in Moray and Peter Wishart in Perthshire, where Tory support was particularly strong last week.
The success has been widely attributed to the party’s ability to capture the pro-UK vote in Scotland opposed to the SNP’s demands for another referendum. Ms Davidson added: “Across Scotland, we know people are looking for somebody to stand up to the SNP.
“So our challenge is this. It’s to bring the SNP down to size. To show they can’t take Scotland for granted.”
UK voters will go to the polls in exactly a month, with Mrs May pitching the campaign as a choice between her “strong and stable” leadership and Labour “chaos”.
Ms Sturgeon will today warn that, without a strong SNP representation at Westminster, the Tories will think they have a free hand to negotiate any Brexit deal – or crash out of Europe without any agreement despite the economic impact.
The First Minister will warn: “In the last few days, the Tory mask has slipped. There is now no doubt they’ll sacrifice Scotland’s interests and jobs because they’re far more concerned about winning votes from Ukip.
“Theresa May’s extraordinary attacks on our European partners demonstrate that an unchecked Tory government is prepared to pursue a chaotic hard Brexit if it is in the interests of the Tory party, whatever the cost to Scotland.
“The difference between the Tories and the SNP couldn’t be clearer. They want to pick fights with Europe. The SNP will fight to protect the interests of the people of Scotland.”
Labour will try to get its struggling election campaign back on track after a disastrous council election saw the party lose more than 130 seats.
Its campaign chief James Kelly said the SNP’s demands for a second referendum played into the Conservatives’ hands last week. He said: “Nicola Sturgeon acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Tories and people used their votes in protest.
“The Tories have become a one-issue party.
“We were really clear in this election. We were opposed to independence, a second independence referendum, but we also promoted candidates who stand up for our communities and support public services and the Tories had nothing to say about that.”
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will hit the campaign trail in Rutherglen and Hamilton West today.
She said: “The council elections showed people are turning away from the SNP because they fed-up with the nationalists’ attempt to force another divisive referendum.”