NICOLA Sturgeon last night blasted Ruth Davidson as the leader of a "hard-line UKIP-style Tory party" that wants to dismantle the gains of devolution.

Sturgeon stepped up her attack on Davidson as the battle lines hardened between the SNP and Tories ahead of next month's General Election.

The SNP leader's fightback came as Davidson said the General Election was a "two horse race between us and the nationalists" after the Tories made sweeping local council gains.

Davidson claimed the Tories were now poised to take SNP-held seats such as Gordon, the constituency held by Alex Salmond, if the results were replicated on June 8.

But speaking to the Sunday Herald, Sturgeon sought to draw a stark contrast between the record of the Tories in government at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood.

Sturgeon said the Tories were presiding over a "humanitarian crisis" in the NHS south of the border, a claim originally made by the British Red Cross following patient deaths.

She said Scottish Tories elected to Westminster would back Theresa May over tax cuts for the rich and welfare policies such as the bedroom tax and rape clause.

Sturgeon also claimed Davidson's party wanted to reverse policies such as free NHS prescriptions and free university tuition that were passed by Holyrood.

She said: "This is a hard-line UKIP-style Tory party that sees a chance to dismantle the progress we’ve made as a country.

"The record of the SNP compared with the Tories shows what is at stake in this election – it’s the kind of country we want to live in."

Sturgeon added: "In Scotland we’ve kept the NHS in public hands, while the Tories have been accused of creating a humanitarian crisis in the health service in England.

“In Scotland we’re protecting people from the Tory bedroom tax – but the Tories are now imposing the immoral rape clause.

“In Scotland we’ve made prescriptions free and abolished tuition fees, ?but the Tories say they would rather spend the money on a tax cut for the rich.

“The Tories are now demanding a free hand to impose any kind of Brexit deal no matter how damaging this might prove to be for key Scottish industries and jobs.

“The Labour Party is collapsing. But the SNP is dedicated to providing the strong voice for Scotland we need more than ever.”

As she met newly-elected SNP councillors in Glasgow Sturgeon also dismissed as "ludicrous" any claims that the surge in Tory support in Scotland could derail her bid to hold a second independence referendum.

However, Davidson insisted the Tories were on course to oust the SNP in seats such as Aberdeen South, Stirling, Edinburgh South West and Moray – the constituency held by the party's deputy leader Angus Robertson.

Davidson said: “This week's local government election has shown we are the only party in Scotland with the strength to fight back against the SNP, in every part of Scotland.

“We won the local government election is Gordon this week, beating the SNP into second place.

"It means that in this seat, as in many others, it is a two-horse race between us and the Nationalists."

However, Robertson pledged Scotland will be heard "like never before" at Westminster if a "strong" group of SNP MPs is elected.

Robertson launched his re-election campaign in Elgin saying: "'I know first-hand how important it is to have a strong voice to stand up for Scotland and to stand up to the Tories at Westminster.

''With a strong group of SNP MPs elected on June 8 Scotland's voice will be heard at Westminster like never before.''

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie confirmed he will run for Westminster for the first time in the General Election.

Harvie, an MSP, will stand in the Glasgow North constituency, and urged voters there to back him to "send Theresa May a message".

At the last election, the Greens only returned one MP to the Commons, with Caroline Lucas winning the Brighton Pavilion seat for a second time.

Harvie said: "This election was called by a Tory Prime Minister taking advantage of a weak Labour party - but we can use it to send Theresa May a message.

"By electing me Glasgow can show that we reject May's hard Brexit disaster and fight for our future in Europe.

"We can show her government that Scotland rejects their cruel attacks on disabled people and the vulnerable, including the vile rape clause. And we can prove that there is a better way."

Harvie's intervention came as a Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told a rally of supporters in Leicester, that his party faces "a huge challenge over the next four and a bit weeks".

Corbyn acknowledged that local election results - which saw Labour shed 320 councillors and lose control of seven authorities, including Glasgow – were "disappointing", but insisted that "the gap between us and the Tories is not as great as the pundits have been saying".

Theresa May insisted she was "taking nothing for granted" following emphatic local election victories which have sparked predictions she is heading for a landslide victory.

Speaking during a campaign visit to Wolverhampton, where the Tories won the contest for West Midlands metro mayor, she said: "I'm very grateful for the support that we received in the local elections... but the question people now face in the General Election is: Who should lead the country for the next five years, me or Jeremy Corbyn?"