DID you see the STV leaders debate this week? What did you think? Who do you think won? It’s hard to see past Nicola Sturgeon, isn’t it? As always, she was confident, loquacious, well-briefed. But the surprise of the night, surely, was the Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw. Who knew? He’s not as bad as we thought he was.

Why were expectations so low? That’s obvious. It’s the post-Ruth problem. Ruth Davidson did a good job as leader. She supported policies, on LGBT rights, immigration and the EU, that made old Tory buffers drop their Daily Telegraphs. Essentially, her liberal views attracted people who might otherwise have been booing the Tories like everyone else. And – this shouldn’t matter but it does – she didn’t look like a Tory.

Mr Carlaw, on the other hand, does look a bit like a Tory, or at least the traditional impression of one: reasonably middle-aged, reasonably well-fed, reasonably male. He also didn’t get off to the best of beginnings when he appeared to unilaterally announce that the Scottish Tory party supported a no-deal Brexit. Mr Carlaw has since said his colleagues knew where the policy was heading, but that’s not how it felt at the time – a lot of his colleagues were hacked off about it. It was not a good start.

He seems to be doing better now, though, and it comes down to a few things. Mr Carlaw has a 2Bs problem – Boris and Brexit – which means he’s had to manoeuvre from supporting Remain to supporting Brexit to seemingly supporting no-deal Brexit. It is not a good look. Mr Carlaw used to run a business and seemed to know in 2016 that the EU was good for the economy. But not now apparently, and that’s a problem for many conservatives who prioritise economic competence. Mr Carlaw is squirming under Brexit’s shackle.

In the end, there’s not much the Scottish Tory leader can do about it, but he does think that he has at least part of an answer to the 2Bs problem: No2Indyref2. Mr Carlaw has calculated, quite rightly, that many Scots care more about the union of the UK than the union of the EU and so he’s going for it with some simple slogans, some of which were on show during the TV debate.

The best of them was “Tell Her Again” (as in Nicola Sturgeon) which is easy to remember and has the added bonus of being much simpler and decisive than the Labour stance, which is that they’re opposed to a second independence referendum, unless, um, they’re not, and anyway, it wouldn’t be in the first year of a Labour government, unless, er, it was. Like Labour’s position on Brexit and anti-Semitism, it sounds waffly and evasive. Tell Her Again doesn’t.

In expanding on the slogans during the debate, Mr Carlaw also proved himself to be quite a skilled, and calm, debater with an ability to land a memorable line. On the subject of another vote on independence, he told Nicola Sturgeon she had never respected the result of a referendum other than the one in Catalonia which was illegal. It was a good line and it’s lines that linger.

Mr Carlaw also homed in on one of the First Minister’s weak spots; and it’s one she’s really touchy about. Ms Sturgeon justifies another independence referendum on the grounds that there has been a material change in circumstances. Brexit, she says, is that material change.

However, as Mr Carlaw pointed out during the debate, Ms Sturgeon has also been saying recently that, even if we stayed in the EU, there would still be a case for a second independence vote. That has none of the logic of her original position and Ms Sturgeon and her advisors haven’t come up with a decent response yet. And so she gets nippy when she’s asked about it.

One of Mr Carlaw’s strengths, by contrast, is he doesn’t get nippy in the same way – in fact, as Richard Leonard got waffly and Willie Rennie got a bit high-pitched, it was Mr Carlaw who seemed calm. When he talked about not wanting to see a return to the way Britain was in the 1970s, you could also see his Tory roots showing. Mr Carlaw was a schoolboy during the three-day week; he also got angry about the militancy of the unions and there will be lots of Scots in their 40s, 50s and 60s who will feel the same way. They were there too.

Mr Carlaw’s hope is that he can connect with those other conservatives, but he also knows it won’t be enough on its own and that, like last time, he needs voters who wouldn’t normally vote Tory. The problem, obviously, is that it’s a much harder ask this time – because of the 2Bs again – but I think Mr Carlaw’s performance during the debate will have helped. Amid the shouting, he sounded calm. Amid the waffle, he had a simple message. His strategy now – and it’s the only one he’s realistically got – is to do more of the same.