And it was all going so well. Just two years ago, Ruth Davidson was being discussed seriously as a potential First Minister, at least by Ruth Davidson. The Tories had surged from one Westminster seat to 13 against a faltering SNP, and Ms Davidson put Nicola Sturgeon “on notice” that she intended to replace her in Bute House.

That was quite a stretch, of course, but as a well-known, centrist figure and the only realistic challenger to the SNP’s dominance, at least it was not completely beyond the realms of possibility. Work began immediately to pursue that goal by broadening the Tories’ appeal beyond the anti-independence vote.

But that brief era in which the Scottish Tories dared to dream big again in Scotland, is now comprehensively over. By backing the option of a no-deal Brexit in a country that is still overwhelmingly pro-Remain, the party’s interim leader Jackson Carlaw has as good as said: We are no longer serious contenders for government, we cannot challenge the SNP, we accept relegation. Now our best hope to avoid electoral oblivion is to tussle with the Brexit Party for Leave votes.

It’s a strategy, I suppose, but it carries two very big risks: of alienating heartland Conservative supporters like farmers and business people who want to avoid crashing out of Europe at all costs (some have already been pounding Tory doors in alarm); and of dragging the Scottish Tories down in the mire of no-deal. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal – either on October 31 by some sleight of hand, or three months later following a Tory general election win – then Mr Carlaw and his Tory colleagues will face the wrath of everyone who stands to lose from it, and that means all of us. What do you tell a voter whose business has collapsed or someone who can’t get the right medicine? “At least Brexit isn’t dragging on”?

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That could become the Scottish Tories’ epitaph (and it will in any case drag on for years after the UK’s official departure). The Tories’ credibility would crumble with Scotland’s economic fortunes.

It’s not even clear that it makes electoral sense. Yes, they might pick up staunch Leavers from Nigel Farage’s camp, but only by sacrificing votes from Remainers who oppose independence, votes that will be snapped up by the hungry Liberal Democrats.

Because of all of this – and because no-deal is patently such a bad idea – it has one further impact for the Scottish Tories which could be far-reaching: it damages their brand by leaving them open to the opposition charge of callously and high-handedly disregarding Scotland’s wishes, the same perception that wounded the Tories so badly during the Thatcher and Major years. By 1997, the Sheriff of Nottingham had a more sympathetic image in Scotland than Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth, who was seen as a modern day baron, arrogantly disregarding the wishes of Scots on the key constitutional issue of the day, devolution. Try fighting an independence referendum with that sort of press. Jackson Carlaw and the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack seem not to appreciate the danger. Ruth Davidson spent her time at the helm trying to rehabilitate and mainstream the Conservative brand but Carlaw and Jack could put the poison back.

Ms Davidson’s face at First Minister’s Questions yesterday said it all. As Mr Carlaw was pilloried by a gleeful SNP leader for reversing the party’s opposition to no deal, she looked deflated. Did she really nod in agreement as the First Minister mentioned the former Tory leader’s opposition to a border in the Irish Sea? It appeared so.

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She is not the only one with misgivings. The desk-thumping and applause that usually accompany party leaders from their colleagues in the debating chamber were conspicuously muted as Mr Carlaw spoke. No wonder, given his decision to change the party’s stance on Brexit without even consulting his shadow cabinet colleagues.

Perhaps he will take comfort from knowing that Mr Jack approves. The Scottish Secretary, a proper faith-based Brexiteer, reacted to the news of the no-deal u-turn by saying that Mr Carlaw had “brought the Scottish Conservatives into line” on the issue. Ouch.

Jackson Carlaw is a man doing a difficult job. Like other Scottish leaders of UK parties before him, he’s in the classic middle management bind, caught between a self-serving chief executive who couldn’t care less about the Scottish sales strategy, and a workforce of MSPs who aren’t inclined to get with the head office project. As any divisional manager will tell you, it’s not easy sitting in your office while through the glass wall, the mutinous staff are whispering by the water cooler.

It would certainly be painful for Mr Carlaw to continue opposing a no-deal Brexit only to be undermined at every turn by Boris Johnson. He doesn’t want to find himself in the position of Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, whose authority has been undermined by Jeremy Corbyn contradicting him over a second independence referendum.

Mr Carlaw has also rejected the idea of the Scottish Conservatives going it alone as an independent party, separate from the UK Conservatives, perhaps out of concern that it would seem hypocritical for a party that opposes Scottish independence.

But perhaps he should revisit the option. The truth is that hypocrisy is de rigueur for all the main parties. Their cross-cutting stances on Brexit and independence have seen to that. Nicola Sturgeon warns endlessly about the chaos Brexit will bring by severing links with the UK’s biggest trading partner, but denies chaos will result from Scotland breaking away from its most important trading partner in the event of independence; the Lib Dems would overturn the EU referendum result with a general election majority, but deny that a pro-independence majority in Holyrood would justify another independence referendum. Labour has tried to face both ways on Brexit all along. All the party leaders are contorting themselves in a painful and protracted game of political Twister. Why not the Scottish Tories? Surely it’s better than hitching their wagon to Boris Johnson.

Perhaps Jackson Carlaw won’t have to carry the burden of leadership for much longer. The word is that a band of his fellow MSPs are already pushing for an early leadership election, out of alarm at his Brexit stance. It could be the most important Scottish Tory leadership contest in decades.