The Scottish Tories have submitted the phrase “Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition” to be on the party list ballot paper on 5 May.
The move is an attempt to capitalise on the leader’s popularity while seeking to drive home the message that Conservatives are better at standing up to the SNP than Labour.
However, critics of the Conservatives will accuse Davidson of attempting to use her personality to mask the Tories’ toxic brand north of the Border.
The strategy has echoes of the one deployed by the SNP in the 2007 Holyrood election.
Back then the SNP outfoxed the other political parties by describing itself as “Alex Salmond for First Minister” on the ballot paper.
It was a tactic devised to maximise the former First Minister’s personal appeal. It appeared to work with the SNP managing to defeat Labour for the first time to form a minority government.
The Tories believe putting Davidson front and centre of the campaign will help their attempts to overtake Labour and become the main party of opposition at Holyrood.
Last night Davidson said: “People are looking for someone to hold the SNP to account and to stand up against their constant flirtation with a second referendum. In nine years Labour hasn’t landed a glove on the SNP. By putting my offer of a strong opposition to the SNP on the ballot paper we are showing our intent to provide the strong credible counter to the SNP which this country so desperately needs.
“People have run out of patience with a Labour Party which no longer knows what it’s about.
“Labour now agrees with the SNP on ending Britain’s nuclear deterrent, it agrees with the SNP on a one-size fits all education system and it agrees with the SNP on illiberal measures like imposing state guardians.
“What’s the point of a main opposition party if all it does is agree with the SNP?”
“We’ll take the SNP to task on all of these issues and we’ll also ensure the government that it sticks to the day job. Nicola Sturgeon may plan to use every day in office to pursue her goal of independence, but it’s critical that we have a strong opposition which will stand by the decision we on this only 17 months ago.”
She added: “That is what you’ll get with me. And the choice is now clear: weak opposition under Labour, or a strong principled opposition under the Scottish Conservatives.”
Last night a SNP spokesman said: “The Tories appear to have completely abandoned any hope of winning in May. Ruth Davidson’s personal approval ratings are dismal, and she has just led her party to its worst electoral defeat in Scotland for 150 years – the Scottish Tories are a party going nowhere.”