RUTH Davidson’s allies were hoping for a favourable set of political circumstances ahead of their boss’s return to the front-line this week.

Plan A was for Davidson to come back from maternity leave after a Brexit withdrawal agreement had been passed by MPs. The public, while not ecstatic about the deal, would be relieved that the uncertainty was over.

Such a scenario would also mean no European elections in the UK and no opportunity for voters to punish the Tories. Davidson would return to her party conference this month and focus her energies on opposing indyref2. As the face of Unionism, and with a new set of policies at hand, she would topple Nicola Sturgeon in the 2021 Holyrood election to become the next First Minister.

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Recent events have ensured that this political fantasy has gone from low chance to no chance. Any resolution to the Brexit crisis appears to be far away, an impasse that is angering Tory voters more than anyone. The Brexit Party is on the rise and the Conservatives, on both sides of the border, are in retreat.

Theresa May, a Davidson ally, is also unlikely to be Prime Minister by the end of the year. Her successor, who will be picked by Tory members after being handed a shortlist by MPs, may be Boris Johnson. Scottish Tories fear he will be a recruiting sergeant for the SNP and boost support for independence.

An increasing number of Scottish Conservatives believe that an old idea, which was rejected eight years ago, may have to be resuscitated if Davidson is to have a shot at becoming First Minister.

The 2011 Scottish Tory leadership contest had four candidates, but it was effectively a two-horse race between Murdo Fraser and Davidson, who had only been an MSP for a few months. Fraser wanted to abolish the party and start again. Davidson vociferously opposed the move.

Fraser’s reasoning was clear. A sizeable proportion of voters in Scotland agreed with Conservative policies, but were suspicious of the Tory party. He believed the branding problem would never be overcome. Members disagreed - by 55% to 45% - and installed Davidson as Annabel Goldie’s successor.

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Davidson’s subsequent success has shown that setting up a new party was not necessary at the time. Pushing Labour into third place did not require Fraser’s plan to be enacted. Securing 13 seats at the last general election was achieved by the Scottish Tories, not the ‘Scottish Progressives’, or whatever the new outfit would have been called.

However, there is an argument that the Scottish Tories, through their constitutional association with the UK party, have reached their limit. Tory parliamentarians concede privately that the madness south of the border is having a material impact on Davidson’s electoral chances.

The Conservative party used to be Unionist to its fingertips. Heath, Thatcher, Major, Hague, Cameron, Howard and May - while very different in temperament and policy - valued Scotland’s place in the UK. As leaders, they would never have played Russian roulette with the Union.

Today is different. A huge chunk of the membership, and a noisy contingent of Euro-sceptic MPs, have one obsession: leaving the European Union. Brexit comes first; everything else, including the integrity of the UK, is an afterthought. English nationalism is gripping a party once known for its pragmatism.

Here is how Stephen Kerr, a Scottish Tory MP in Stirling, described the situation to me in January:

“My concern about the attitude of some of my English Conservative colleagues is that they have more in common with the SNP, and their attitudes, than sometimes I think they have with conservatism and unionism.

“They have a very similar, black and white, sometimes romanticised, sometimes xenophobic attitude towards other people.”

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A breakaway would put distance between Ruth Davidson and a UK party that appears to have lost its mind. It would need to be separately funded and its MPs would have their own whipping arrangements. It would also need to be registered as an independent political party at the Electoral Commission.

Davidson would be free to put the boot in to her Tory cousins at Westminster, rather than making occasional digs at a party that she relies on for funding and resources. Her unionism would be unfiltered.

The alternative would be to rely on the UK party coming to its senses, agreeing a soft Brexit, moving to the political centre, and becoming an asset rather than a liability. The Scottish Tories I speak to are sceptical that this will happen.

Davidson made her name opposing independence for Scotland. If she is to become the next First Minister, she may have to reconsider independence for the Scottish Tories.