Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party have passed their peak and Scotland has had enough of them, according to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
“We’ve passed ‘peak Nat’ and, more and more, Scotland is saying ‘enough’,” she is claiming in a battle cry ahead of the elections for the Scottish Parliament in May.
Her claim comes in a speech on day one of the Scottish Tory conference, at which Boris Johnson will rule out a second independence referendum – even if the SNP wins a majority at Holyrood.
In her speech, Ms Davidson will declare: “It’s now just 53 days from polling day for the Scottish election on 6 May. In two weeks’ time, we will enter the official campaign period.
“But the reality is that the starting gun has already been fired. The battle is now under way. Over the last few weeks, something in Scotland has changed.”
There is some evidence that the bitter feud between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor as first minister, Alex Salmond, appears to be damaging support for Scottish independence.
A poll by YouGov for The Times on Thursday suggested support for independence has dropped to 49%, with 51% now opposed.
Another poll, for The Scotsman by Savanta ComRes, suggested 45% would vote Yes if a referendum was held tomorrow, while 47% would vote No and 8% didn’t know.
When the don’t knows were excluded, 51% said they would vote in favour of the Union while 49% would vote for independence – the same margin as in the YouGov poll.
Ms Davidson will claim: “An SNP majority government – once seen as a ‘nailed-on’ near-certainty, and for so long the outcome almost universally forecast amongst the pundits – now looks much less sure.
“It’s vital that majority is stopped because it’s the only way to be certain that Scotland isn’t dragged back into another independence referendum when we all need to be focusing on building a recovery from the pandemic.
“At the last election in 2016 the SNP fell just two seats short of an overall majority. That derailed their drive for another independence referendum five years ago.
“And it was achieved because people right across Scotland who wanted to stop the SNP gave their ‘party’ votes to the Scottish Conservatives. We did it together, and we can do it again.”
At present, out of 129 MSPs at Holyrood, the SNP has 61, the Tories 30, Labour 23, the Green Party five and the Liberal Democrats five, with five others. The 2014 referendum was 55% to 45% in favour of staying in the UK.
Despite Ms Davidson’s bold claim in her conference speech and an apparent drop in support for independence, the YouGov poll predicted Ms Sturgeon is on course to win an overall majority in May’s elections.
YouGov suggested the SNP would win 71 of the 129 seats, with Ms Davidson’s Conservatives down slightly to 29. Labour – under new leader Anas Sarwar – would go down to 20 seats, with the Greens on four.
But The Scotsman’s poll suggested Ms Sturgeon is no longer on course for a majority, predicting 64 SNP MSPs, one seat short of a majority, 30 Conservatives, 20 Labour, five Lib Dems and the Greens up to nine.
Earlier this week, the Green Party’s MSPs helped the SNP defeat a motion of no confidence in Deputy First Minister John Swinney, in a row over government legal advice in the Salmond-Sturgeon battle.
Speaking on day two of the Tory conference, the prime minister is expected to issue a defiant message that holding a second independence referendum during the COVID-19 pandemic would be reckless.
But last week the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said a referendum could take place “as early as late 2021” and claimed the prime minister could not block a poll if his party won a majority at Holyrood.
He said in an interview: “I’d say to Boris Johnson or anybody else in the Tory party that they cannot stand in the face of democracy.
“And certainly that’s the case, that if we win the election – and I’ll never take anything for granted – that we’d be making that case pretty robustly.
“We will support our colleagues in government in Edinburgh in making sure that we get what the Scottish people vote for.”