THE Scottish Tories are savouring their best General Election result in over 30 years, but leader Ruth Davidson already has her eyes on becoming the next First Minister.

Davidson’s anti-independence strategy helped defeat former SNP leader Alex Salmond in Gordon last week and she now wants to replace his successor in Bute House.

The Conservative campaign was broadly a re-run of last year’s successful Holyrood pitch in which the Tories supplanted Labour and moved into second place.

Back then, Davidson put herself at the helm of a Unionist campaign to oppose a second independence referendum. It worked and she repeated the strategy at the recent local government elections.

When the Prime Minister called Davidson at her Holyrood office in mid-April she had no idea she was phoning about an early General Election. She believed Theresa May wanted to talk about the SNP’s formal request for indyref2.

However, as soon as Davidson was informed of May’s intentions, she assembled her war room – party director Mark McInnes, Scotland Secretary David Mundell and spin doctor Eddie Barnes – to plan the campaign.

At the 2015 general election, Davidson’s political judgement was questioned after she set unrealistic measures of success, a mistake she did not repeat in this campaign.

The party identified 15 seats this time – a bold target – but never confirmed the magic number publicly to the press. Four of the seats were considered to be the “inner” core – constituencies in the south that were judged to be easy pickings – and the rest would be targeted with money and shoe leather.

On the morning of the vote Tory smiles vanished as the opinion polls looked good for Labour and senior party figures started to mutter about half-a-dozen seats being a decent result.

In the end, the Scottish Tories returned 13 MPs – more than at any general election since 1983 – some of whom were not expecting to win.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson’s Moray seat was always considered to be a plum opportunity, but Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh’s berth in Ochil and South Perthshire was in the outer core, as were Stirling, Banff & Buchan and Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock.

Unseating Salmond was the Scottish Tory highlight. Davidson visited the constituency in the early part of the campaign, but she was sceptical it would fall. Her presence was designed partly to unsettle Salmond and give the impression safe SNP seats were in Tory sights.

After the polls closed rumours seeped out of Gordon that Salmond was vulnerable. By midnight the speculation was that he was safe. Three hours later one of his closest political allies said: “He has lost.”

Last week's historic result, and Davidson’s huge personal contribution, cannot be under-estimated. In 1997, the Scottish Tories were wiped out and the party never won more a single seat north of the border between 2001 and 2015.

On votes cast, the shift has also been impressive. At the last general election, the Scottish Tories persuaded 434,097 people to go blue, on Friday morning the total number of votes surged to around 738,000.

Davidson, in putting opposition to a second independence referendum at the centre of her campaign, can legitimately claim to have broken the rotor on Sturgeon’s helicopter.

She may also have succeeded in derailing Sturgeon’s independence strategy–- a senior SNP source said on Friday morning that indyref2 was “dead”.

Davidson can also credibly claim to have saved May’s political career, although for how long is open to question. The Scottish Tories were once the embarrassing relative in the Conservative family, but their 13 seats helped keep May in power. If Davidson’s party had repeated its lousy 2015 result, Corbyn would likely be the new tenant in Downing Street.

However, Davidson’s longer-term aim of becoming First Minister, which is being openly spoken about by her allies, has obstacles in its way. She leads the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, but even her closest supporters would concede it is the Unionist tag that is fuelling her success. She has almost become the leader of a single-issue party which, to lift a word used by the First Minister, “transcends” everything else.

All Davidson’s problems in the campaign – on the rape clause, social care and the broader issue of welfare reform – came from the ‘C’ word: Conservative. And all these attack points derived from the actions of the UK Government.

The Scottish Tories have produced a raft of policy papers over the last 12 months, but Davidson deliberately travels policy-lite due to voter suspicion about her party’s motivations.

Ask voters what Davidson stands for and they will cite the Union. Ask the same people about the party's domestic policies and they are likely to be stumped.

Such a weakness, even Davidson allies admit, will have to be addressed if the Tories are to move from a protest movement to a party of government. A source close to the leader said: “We have to produce a coherent policy agenda of our own.”

Davidson’s two potential routes to Bute House after the next Holyrood election also appear to be road-blocked. The first – replacing the SNP as the largest party – seems improbable, even in the context of the Nationalist vote falling since 2015. The other option – depriving the pro-independence parties of a majority and persuading Labour and the Lib Dems to back her – also appears far-fetched.

Many Scottish Labour MSPs would be horrified at the prospect of installing Davidson as First Minister, while the Lib Dems are also queasy about a party that has bungled Brexit.

Friday may have been confirmation that Peak Nat has passed, but a combination of electoral arithmetic and Scottish realpolitik may stop Davidson from reaching the summit.