THE PRIME Minister has been forced to come to the aid of his Scots party leader Ruth Davidson, who has been under fire from the grassroots for retreating from her "line in the sand" over more powers for Holyrood.

Right at the outset of his conference speech in Stirling, David Cameron came to Ms Davidson's defence, insisting: "We will only succeed if we are in touch and in tune with modern Scotland and in Ruth, you've got the ideal leader.

"Ruth wasn't born into the Conservative Party. She chose it and she understands that to win we've got to be a party for all of Scotland, a party focused on securing Scotland's place within a strong UK, but not afraid to look at how devolution can be improved. I back her every step of the way."

Ms Davidson came under fierce public criticism from the vice-chairman of Stirling Tories who said the fact the issue that most cried out for debate was being debated in fringe meetings in hotels rather than in the conference chamber "spoke volumes for the fear and alarm that this issue raises in the party hierarchy".

Alastair Orr, who has stood as a Westminster candidate, said the lack of debate was unhealthy and contrasted with other parties, making Ms Davidson look weak.

He said he had been unhappy about her performance as leader generally and savaged the conference's "lacklustre agenda" comprising "playschool type sessions of question-and-answer panels" instead of forthright debate.

He added: "It's a classic default position of the Scottish Tories that when they get into difficulty we ship in, usually a lord, who takes a review or a commission away into the long grass and hopes the fuss will die down and the activists will just be quiet. Well, I've got news. They're not going to."

The Prime Minister spoke as a new poll found he was less popular than the Tory party as a whole.

The survey of 3000 people showed 22% were more favourably disposed towards the Tory party than towards its leader, compared with 18% saying the opposite.

Ms Davidson told delegates yesterday: "To have a debate on the conference floor you need a motion to debate to, you need to have concrete proposals there. We do not have anything back from the Strathclyde Commission yet because we've only just set it up."

She denied she was "hiding behind" the commission headed by Lord Strathclyde set up to examine the issue.

"When he comes back with concrete proposals they will be taken to the membership and that is the proper way and manner and process in which this should be established," she said.

Defending her position as leader, she said: "I was elected by the whole of the Conservative Party, the first leader of the whole Conservative Party in Scotland, not just the MSP group, and the first leader to be elected one-member one-vote to have a mandate across the whole party. There is a structure that has been set up under Lord Strathclyde in order to discuss it in a mature fashion and come to a set of proposals that not just meets the aspiration of the people of Scotland, but also gives us a devolved settlement that's stable."

In a contribution to "Rally for the Union" she told party representatives it was vital to look beyond next year's referendum result, adding: "Our vision must be forged in the right, in a Conservative future for our people."

Next year would be a chance to "put to bed a debilitating debate over separation".

Outside the conference, one man was led away by police after an anti-bedroom tax protest.

Leader comment: Page 16

Magnus Gardham: Page 17