A CURIOUS incongruity has come to settle at the heart of the Conservative and Unionist offering in Scotland. Since Ruth Davidson became leader in 2011 she has remorselessly flogged one policy (if you can call it that) to the almost exclusion of all others: No to Scottish independence and a second referendum on independence.

Certainly, she has been eloquent and word-perfect in manufacturing dismay at the educational attainment deficit in disadvantaged communities. And she is pitch-perfect on missed targets in hospitals. She knows and we know, though, that these are crocodile tears shed by a woman whose party glories in making poor neighbourhoods poorer still and lets loose the dogs of privatisation on the NHS in England and Wales. She has nothing resembling an actual policy of her own in these areas simply because it would have to mimic Theresa May’s and, as such, would be unacceptable in Scotland.

So she has wrung the anti-independence strategy dry; bent it; sculpted it and contorted it. She has made of it a graven image. She has accused Nicola Sturgeon of being obsessive about independence yet no one is more obsessive about it than she. The constitutional issue, she claims, has torn Scotland apart yet without it she and her party would be nowhere. She can’t live with independence yet if the issue were to disappear she’d be lost.

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The nastiness of the campaign for Scottish independence exists only in the fevered imaginations of the Tories and some of their acolytes among Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs. In truth, it has given a voice to many who had previously been mute and increased the levels of political engagement. And so, in a self-fulfilling prophecy and in the absence of any genuine maliciousness or belligerence, Ms Davidson has simply decided to turn nasty herself. In so doing she has taken the party in Scotland with her. According to Ms Davidson, there are complicated reasons for foodbanks, the rape clause is a genuine effort to help the pregnant women affected and Scottish nationalism is a totalitarian cult.

During the council elections her party’s message was drenched in fear and loathing. Consequently, some of the new intake of Tory councillors will be sworn in to the sound of banjos and fiddles like an echo of the movie Deliverance

The strategy, nasty and divisive though it may be, nonetheless has flowered in some places like thorns on a parched landscape. What was left of the Labour Party in Scotland has become utterly marginalised through its failure to adapt to the new reality in Scottish politics. It chose the wrong horse, a pale horse, and its own death followed with it. While the constitutional question remains unsettled (independence in the common tongue) Labour in Scotland will be left holding the jackets. This being so, it suits the Conservatives to leave it unsettled for as long as possible.

Certainly, they fear the prospect of an independent Scotland and the resulting end to dependency on a political culture that rewards wealth and privilege and penalises poverty and vulnerability. Just as important to them, though, is the harrowing of Scottish Labour. Continuing uncertainty over independence maintains the fiction of a genuine Tory revival in Scotland. As soon as the constitutional issue is settled the old political positions in Scotland will be assumed and the Tories will be relying on the list as usual to get a few MSPs elected.

Many independence supporters will be gnashing their teeth and rendering their garments asunder at the announcement by Mrs May on Thursday that should her party win another five years in office no independence referendum will be granted until that tenure is spent. Instead they ought to be having a couple of quiet drinks in moderate celebration.

The Prime Minister has effectively blinked first in her showdown with Nicola Sturgeon on the timing of the second independence referendum. Though Ms Sturgeon had stated the spring of 2019 as her preferred date it’s widely acknowledged that this was merely an opening gambit. Mrs May’s previously stated position was that this was not the time. Now she has moved closer to a date and it’s not far away from the wider SNP timeframe.

Though she is unlikely to espouse such a view in public, the First Minister will be quietly content with her Westminster counterpart’s latest intervention on Scotland’s future. Unlike Ms Sturgeon, Mrs May will probably not have to contend with the scarecrow wing of her party after next month. Scotland’s First Minister must always juggle the aspirations of those among the Yes contingent who want a referendum sooner with those who are content to play a longer game (though not considerably longer). This way allows Ms Sturgeon to say she strove for an early referendum and the opportunity to rail against perfidious Albion in denying it.

Of course there’s a danger that the next Scottish election will drastically cut the size of the SNP’s presence at Holyrood thus strengthening the Tories’ argument that there is no popular mandate for a second referendum. This, though, is where the pro-UK parties really need to get real. Including this month’s council elections, the SNP have triumphed in four successive nationwide polls since 2011. In each none of the pro-UK parties have been anywhere near them.

Already the Tories are saying that if they pick up 10 or so Westminster seats on June 8 the case for a second referendum will have been irreparably damaged. That would still leave the SNP with a huge majority of seats in an election for a polity they wish to leave. Before the 2015 election it was widely acknowledged that 20 seats for the SNP – up from their then total of six – would be a triumph; they got 56. Two years later they are poised to maintain their grip on Westminster seats. How many overwhelming electoral victories for the party of Scottish independence are required for it to be accepted that a mandate for a second referendum has been achieved? It could reasonably be argued that such has been the continued dominance at the polls of the SNP that not only the case for a second referendum has been made but one for full independence itself.

By 2022 the full consequences of a hard Brexit will have begun to materialise, especially to those working class communities in the north of England still be waiting for the hospitals the fabled £350m a week was supposed to pay for. The trade deals with each of the 27 remaining EU countries led by the resolute Chancellor Merkel and the fervently pro-EU French leader Emmanuel Macron will be hard ones on terms that will cause British businesses to feel a chill. When that happens the first casualties are always at the lowest end of the wage scales.

Theresa May’s manifesto pledged to tighten the screw on Britain’s most vulnerable people a little more with the scrapping of the pensions triple lock and winter fuel repayments. By 2022 it can safely be predicted that Scots will have just about had their fill of 12 years of a hard-Right Tory government; its one-sided austerity programme; its tax-breaks for the rich and its endorsement of tax-avoiders.