SHARES in Ruth Davidson as the next leader of the UK Conservative Party have risen after the Scottish Tory chief was praised for a feisty performance in the BBC’s live Great Debate on the EU.

As with Nicola Sturgeon’s TV appearance during the General Election head-to-heads a year ago, Ms Davidson won plaudits for her ebullient performance; this time in promoting the Remain cause opposite chief Brexiter Boris Johnson in what was arguably the most high-profile televised event of the whole In-Out campaign, coming just 48 hours before voters go to the polls.

Analysts scored her highly when she took on the Leave panellists on issues such as the cost of Brexit, security and the role of experts supporting the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU.

Right-wing commentators noted how Ms Davidson had a “starring role” in the set-piece event that pointed to possibilities beyond the outcome of this referendum.

During the two-hour debate, bookmaker William Hill twice shortened its odds for the 37-year-old Edinburgh MSP to become the next leader of the UK Conservatives; reducing them from 33/1 to 25/1 and then to 16/1. Mr Johnson, however, remains in pole position to succeed David Cameron at 5/2; yet Tory contests have a notorious habit of not choosing the favourite.

It is certainly the case that there are Conservatives, including senior ones, who would support a Davidson bid to become a future UK party leader. As in Scotland, where she has played a pivotal role in reviving Tory fortunes, party insiders south of the border believe her working class background and no-nonsense approach could broaden the party’s appeal.

As recently as last month, Ms Davidson told Westminster’s House magazine, whose target audience is MPs, that she felt she would never doing anything more important in her political life than helping to keep Britain together during the 2014 referendum campaign.

She described the role of prime minister as the “loneliest job in the world” and that it was one she did not seek.

Yet when asked if she would rule out standing to become an MP, she replied: “I’m certainly ruling it out for now because I’ve got a pretty bloody big job. It’s now become a bigger and much more interesting job to be an MSP than it is to be an MP from Scotland sitting on the backbenches.”

In Westminster-speak, this is leaving the door open; although she would need a Westminster seat to contest successfully, north or south of the border.

Next month, by sheer coincidence the Scottish Tory leader will be the guest speaker at a Westminster journalists’ lunch; often seen as an occasion for a politician to raise their profile.

After the Great Debate event, Ms Davidson and Mr Johnson were seen embracing each other. However, hours earlier the Scottish Tory leader was forced to deny suggestions – allegedly made by sources close to her – that if the former London mayor ever became the party’s UK leader, the Scottish party would “do a Murdo” ie declare its own separation from the UK party.

This would appear anathema to an avowed Unionist like Ms Davidson.

But if Mr Johnson were in the running to succeed Mr Cameron and all that could mean not just for the UK Tory family but also for a revived Nationalist threat to the Union, such circumstances might make the Scottish party leader and her supporters reconsider the No 10 option.