THE SCOTTISH Tories must drop their obsession with independence if they are to increase their reach and succeed in the 2021 Scottish elections.

That was the advice from a senior Scots academic, who said that the Conservatives' campaign in Scotland focused on blocking a second independence referendum while failing to appeal to other voters on any other meaningful issues.

Others have predicted a "bleak" outcome for both Labour and the LibDems unless they take "drastic" action to change their appearance and appeal to the electorate.

Following the chaos of the latest General Election, political parties will already be analysing how the results can help inform their campaign going into the Holyrood poll in 18 months' time, with lessons to be learned on all sides.

Experts say that while Labour debates how to reinvigorate their support, the LibDems work out where they went wrong and the SNP decide how to push through a second referendum or hide any governmental failings, the Tories must rethink their campaign entirely.

Dr Malcolm Harvey a lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, said: "The Conservatives massively played the ‘no to indyref2’ card in Scotland.

"I'm based in Aberdeenshire, and largely in the north-east of Scotland independence was a big issue. They held most of their seats up here.

"You would drive past fields with big signs showing the Tory candidate, with 'no to Indyref2'. There was no ‘This is what we’re going to do for you’, it was all about 'vote for us if you don’t want this’.

"It is a message that they have been hammering since 2015, again in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, in the 2017 council elections and earlier this year in the EU elections."

Harvey explained that the results from the General Election raised more questions about 2021, and whether the SNP would gain a majority this time.

He said: "Looking to 2021, largely the question is whether the SNP can win a majority again or not. By the time 2021 comes around the SNP will have been in government for 15 years, and they don’t have a good record of government, largely speaking, in this time but none of the other parties really look like an alternative government.

"Labour got an absolute shellacking in the General Election this time, the Conservatives at Holyrood ... If you had their Westminster MPs, they would look more like a potential government than some of the ones who are now in Holyrood right now. Can they now move up to that level?

"If the SNP can get to 65 seats, I think that would put more pressure on the constitutional question. All Boris Johnson has to say is ‘No, you’re not having a referendum’.

"Some people from the SNP are talking about legal options but I don’t know what those legal options are. It is quite clear that the constitution is a reserved issue, and is at the behest of the UK Government.

"We had a referendum in 2014 because of an agreement, because David Cameron was pretty sure he would win. There is no guarantee this time, and it would seem like a huge risk to take."

Harvey said that during the first few terms of the Scottish Parliament, constituencies tended to vote the same way in the Holyrood and Westminster elections, but when the SNP won a majority in 2007, everything changed.

He said: "The thing they traded on between 2007 and 2011 was ‘look at our record in government’ and they got a majority in 2011 on the back of that. They can’t do that now because their record in government doesn’t stack up all that well."

If you fast forward to 2015, when the SNP won 56 of 59 seats in Westminster, that has its routes in 2007 but also a direct result of the independence referendum.

"In some ways this election now is even more impressive. Yes, the SNP did not get as many seats and they are 5 per cent down on the share of their votes than 2015, but its more impressive because they have been in government for longer.

"They have a record to defend and a record, if you’re being honest about it, that doesn’t look particularly good.

"Research has suggested that in Scotland, the Scottish government tend to get the credit for something good happening irrespective of whether the Scottish parliament had the npower over it or not. If it was something good Westminster had done, the Scottish government got the credit. If there was blamed to be assigned, even if the Scottish parliament had the power over this, Westminster still got the blame for it. That has largely held through 20 years of devolution.

"The SNP massively benefit from that because it plays in to their sort of grievance politics. That is part of their selling point, that Westminster is the bogey man, Scotland is disadvantaged, ‘We are trying to do all these good things and they are holding us back’."

Rob Johns, politics professor at the University of Essex, said the Scottish parliament elections have apparently fallen in line with the UK elections in terms of becoming a two-party race, exaggerated by the support for and against independence.

He explained: "The really interesting feature for Scottish politics is the two party-fication of it.

"For the longest period there were three, if not four if you count the LibDems, significant players, we would always put four parties on the graph.

"But increasingly it looks as if there is a move towards a standard two-party system, a bit like in England, but the SNP is now the Labour party, but a much more successful version of it."

Johns added that the proportional representation in Scotland, compared with the first-past-the-post system in the UK elections, has not played a role in lessening the move towards a two-party contest.

He said: "Somebody could say in the Scottish elections it will be different due to proportional representation, there isn’t a pressure for tactical voting. It seems to me that this two-party tendency we have now is psychological, it’s not just tactical or to do with the electoral system.

"People are just becoming polarised on the independence issue, obviously, and I think it is going to be a bleak night in May 2021 for both Labour and the LibDems unless they can do something pretty drastic. That sense of ‘we are being told what to do by England’.

"How will the SNP manage the underlying demand for Indyref? I think they will just be very happy to sit and watch it grow. I think that will be their ambition.

"All of this is relatively long-term, I don’t think there will be a surge in support for independence in the polls in the next three months, but its all part of the narrative gradually building over time."