WHEN Ruth Davidson became leader of the Scottish Conservatives she said her mission was to ensure the party would "begin winning again".

A year on, she has fired the first salvo ahead of the 2016 Holyrood election by announcing that she wants to cut income tax by more than 1p when tax-setting powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

This was the most specific policy in an anniversary speech which was intended to give traditional Tory values electoral appeal in Scotland. A smaller state, tougher sentences for criminals and freeing schools from local authority control are all policies being championed by Conservative ministers at Westminster and soundbites such as "We believe in prioritising the family budget over the government budget" sound recycled rather than inspiring. Nevertheless, Ms Davidson displayed a passionate commitment to improving educational opportunity, something that resonates deeply in Scotland. She described children from poorer backgrounds as condemned to the wrong side of an educational divide akin to the Berlin Wall and promised to tear it down by giving schools more freedom. This sounds more ideological than practical. There is a danger that the divide would be deepened rather than overcome.

Loading article content

A pledge to halt the march of the turbines is likely to gain support in communities which fear their tourism-dependent economies will be blighted if the landscape is dominated by wind farms. Much will depend on whether the imminent report of her commission on energy policy provides workable proposals rather than a wish list or populist opposition.

Ms Davidson's biggest blunder was in claiming at last month's party conference that only 12% of Scots households were net contributors, with the taxes they pay outweighing the benefits they receive. That instantly raised her profile but for all the wrong reasons. At a stroke she alienated public sector employees and pensioners who have contributed tax and national insurance throughout their working lives. Yesterday she returned to the theme of self-reliance versus dependence but was careful to stick to basic principles, questioning the relationship between private individuals and the government.

She has still to meet the most difficult challenge of holding Alex Salmond to account at First Minister's Questions. It is hardly a fair contest. Mr Salmond is one of the UK's most astute politicians and a seasoned parliamentarian. Ms Davidson is only 33 and became leader after a mere six months as an MSP. With the Scottish Tories reduced to a hard core of ageing supporters, her difficult task is compounded by the Westminster cuts agenda. Yet her claim that she has "one of the great jobs in Scottish politics" is evidence of an indomitable spirit. She deserves full marks for that but must do her homework thoroughly to be convincing.