FOR a Tory in Scotland, Ruth Davidson has had a fairly good week. A poll on Tuesday found far more voters thought the Scottish Conservative leader would be better at holding an SNP government to account than Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, and far more competent in general.

The next day she got away with launching her manifesto despite admitting her chance of being First Minister was "next to nil" and Nicola Sturgeon would romp it in May.

She even managed to slot in a sweet penalty for a photo-op, despite the unwritten law which denies politicians their basic motor skills whenever a balls and a camera are near.

Of all the opposition leaders in this election, Davidson, 37, seems the one most on a mission.

Dugdale and LibDem Willie Rennie basically want to survive, Patrick Harvie wants more than two lousy seats, and Ukip’s David Coburn is just hoping for his first coherent sentence.

But Davidson, with a background in the Territorial Army, has mapped out two clear objectives for her troops: win a record number of MSPs, meaning at least 19 compared to 15 in 2011, and in so doing overtake Labour to become the official opposition at Holyrood.

The polls suggest it ain’t happening, but the conceit, along with an injection of energetic new candidates, has put a genuine spring in her party’s step, quite an achievement considering it sank to its lowest ever vote share at the general election.

Like the SNP, The Scottish Tories have learned that dreams make excellent carrots.

“We’re saying Scotland needs a strong opposition and we’re ready to serve,” she says. “We’re going to do three things for people if they vote for us - hold the SNP to account, fight against a second referendum, and make the Scottish Government focus on things that matter instead. In the last nine years, Labour hasn’t landed much of a glove on the SNP. It’s time we had a proper discussion, a real ding-dong of ideas [across] the left-right divide. We need that challenge. We need a strong opposition to make better laws. Very simple.”

You’ve set this very clear target. If you don’t achieve it, that’s a big fat fail for you, isn’t it?

She booms that over-hearty, frozen-faced laugh that reveals, rather than conceals, her nerves.

“At the moment, we’re on course for our best ever result. The Labour party’s on course for their worst ever. Whether we cross over is entirely up to the voters. I’m saying to people, 'there is a job that I can do for you if that happens and I promise to carry out that job to the best of my ability'.

“It may be that the people of Scotland don’t want me to do that job for them. But something in Scotland needs to change. If the voters don’t change the government then they should consider changing the official opposition.” If you miss your target, will you stay leader? “Yes.”

Davidson has tried to turn the election into an epic battle between herself and Sturgeon. Labour and the LibDems are virtually crypto-Nats, back-sliding on support for the Union, and only the Tories can be trusted to defend it, goes the Tory line.

Such a polarised debate may raise her profile and marginalise Dugdale, but isn’t revisiting the referendum aggravating an old wound, stoking ill feeling in order to suck up Unionist votes?

She cites Sturgeon’s recent promise of a summer initiative on independence as proof of a clear and present danger to the UK, and says it’s her duty to resist it.

"I think it’s incumbent on people who believe in the United Kingdom to say, ‘You know what? We made that decision. We don’t want you to bring this back up again and we will fight against you every step of the way. You can’t drag us back to a second referendum’.”

Davidson recently attacked Dugdale for saying (before a hasty U-turn) that it was “not inconceivable” that she might back independence to stay in the EU in the event of Brexit.

Is it always inconceivable for you to support independence? Regardless of where Scotland’s best interests might lie, would you always vote for the Union?

A baffled ‘does not compute’ expression appears. The very idea that Scotland’s best interests might not coincide with the Union seems utterly incomprehensible to her.

“For me, it is in Scotland’s best interests to stay part of the United Kingdom.” And that’s an eternal truth? You wouldn’t judge it by the context? “There’s no dichotomy there. For me it’s in Scotland’s interests to stay in the UK. You’re posing a false choice. It’s synonymous.”

Whatever else she is, Davidson is a true believer. She’s not alone. She says that for many people, the Union “is the most important thing in determining their vote. I would very much like them to come and support us.” But ask about some of her fellow Unionists and that nervous ventriloquist’s rictus is back in flash.

Would you accept an endorsement from the Orange Order if it said Vote Conservative?

“Well, we never have done before. We’ve never sought it. I don’t think they do that. You know, I think people within that obviously have a vote the same as anybody else, but no we wouldn’t seek it and, you know, we, er...” She starts squirming in her seat. But you’re trying to tap the pro-Union vote, and the Orange Order has a lot of members. If they say Vote Conservative, how would you feel? “I think I’d be pretty uncomfortable with that,” she mutters.

Davidson promises strong opposition, but recent history suggests she may be more of a strong echo. Where’s this battle of ideas you’re talking about on tax? You’d do exactly what the UK government is doing on income tax. “We don’t want people in Scotland to have to pay more tax than people in the rest of the UK. We want to protect people’s pay packets. It’s also not good for the Scottish economy.”

You sought new powers for Holyrood yet you aren’t making different decisions. You’re in lock-step with George Osborne. Afraid of going against the Chancellor? “I think you’ve seen plenty of times when I’ve put my head above the parapet against George Osborne.” Not on income tax. “This is our position. We’re very comfortable with it. Scotland needs a strong voice that says, 'Let’s not tax people in Scotland till the pips squeak'. That seems to be what every other party is saying and we’re trying to drag people back to the centre ground.”

What about the budget and the proposed £4.5bn cuts to disability benefits that prompted Iain Duncan Smith to resign as Work and Pensions Secretary? You issued three press releases welcoming the budget but didn’t raise an eyebrow about the cuts until IDS went. Did you not appreciate what these changes implied or did you just not care?

“That’s a real interesting way of phrasing the question. I made my position clear after we’d absorbed the budget.” You didn’t say anything until after IDS quit. “If you look at the press releases from any of the other parties, I don’t think they picked up on that in the budget either. I came out before the change in policy [a week later]. It was right that it changed.”

Did you agree with IDS when he said it was not defensible to have these proposed changes to disability benefits in the same budget as reductions in tax for higher earners?

“Well, look, I’m not going to get into words, quotes, semantics, whatever,” she flaps.

A couple of quickies to end. Baroness Mone: asset to the party or bit of a chancer?

“She’s been asked to do a job by the party in terms of reviewing small businesses up and down the country. I’m sure the report produced will be of quality and weight.”

Oops. Mone’s Be the Boss review was published six weeks ago. “Well there you go.” It obviously made a big impression. “Well I am in the middle of an election campaign to be fair.”

Some Tory business people thought her peerage was a shallow, PR appointment. “I’m not going to comment on that. She was appointed through the process down south. It wasn’t a recommendation from myself or others in the Scottish Conservative Party,” she reveals.

You’ve said rejuvenating the Scottish Tories is a 10-year project for you. Is your leadership also a 10-year gig? “I’ve never quantified it. It’s one of those jobs where the day you stop enjoying it is the day you stop doing it. I’ll know when the time is right for me to take a step back. It’s not now.

"I’m about to get my own team on the pitch for the first time in my leadership. This is hugely exciting. Scottish politics is exciting. It feels big. You never know, when you do something totally different from what you’ve done before, whether it’s going to get your juices flowing. This absolutely gets my juices flowing."