THE Liberal Democrats are ideally placed to take seats off the SNP in next year’s Holyrood election because of the acute weakness of the other Unionist parties, Sir Ed Davey has claimed.

On his first visit to Scotland as the new UK LibDem leader, Sir Ed said his was set to be “the party” to defeat the Nationalists in parts of Scotland.

The Scottish Tories have an untested new leader in MP Douglas Ross, while Scottish Labour’s Richard Leonard is hampered by internal squabbles and a low public profile.

Sir Ed also said voters would not thank the SNP for trying to focus on a “distraction” such as independence when the Covid pandemic and economic recovery were the priorities.

He said Nicola Sturgeon’s argument that independence was the best route to recovery was “illogical” and “crazy”.

He said: “Putting up barriers to trade and separating people isn’t clever, even in the best times. At this time, I just think it’s crazy.

“People’s livelihoods, their jobs are on the line, their incomes are on the line, enterprises are on the line. Can’t people see that? What’s their priority? Get you priorities right.”

Sir Ed was speaking to the media after a visit to Fife Zoo, where he fed worms to meerkats and a parsnip to a porcupine. “Not what I expected to be doing when I woke up,” he said.

He also campaigned with Scottish leader Willie Rennie and North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain.

The LibDems won just five MSPs in the 2016 election - four constituencies and one North East list seat.

However they were the only party to gain a seat from the SNP in last year’s general election, taking North East Fife where the SNP majority was just two.

Asked what would constitute success at next May’s Holyrood election, Sir Ed refused to put a number on it, but said the party would “go forward”.

He said: “I do know this - in parts of Scotland we are probably the party to take seats off the SNP and I think that will become clearer and clearer the nearer we get to next May.

“I think the leadership of Willie Rennie and the constructive way he’s talked about how parties need to work together will find increasing resonance.

“The other unionist parties are not as strong as they’ve been in previous Holyrood elections, and we have a real possibility of gaining momentum.

“I’m not saying it’s there yet, I’m not trying to exaggerate, but I think our message could well resonate far more powerfully. We’re focused laser beam-like on the pandemic and recovery.”

The visit was part of a “listening tour” aimed at mending the damage done to the party under Jo Swinson, who lost her East Dunbartonshire seat to the SNP in December after touting herself as the next Prime Minister.

Sir Ed said he would be “more humble” than his predecessors and suggested the party had “lost its way”.

On Brexit, he predicted Boris Johnson would secure a trade deal with the EU, despite the current acrimony over the UK Internal Market Bill.

He said: “I actually think he’ll get a deal in the end and I think there’s a bit of game playing here if you want my honest view.

“But there’s still that risk [of no deal], and it’s been heightened by the way he’s been so deeply irresponsible and reckless with this appalling idea that we should break international law, which I think is just shocking.”

Amal Clooney yesterday quit as the UK’s special envoy on media freedom in protest at Mr Johnson’s “lamentable” decision to breach international law with the Internal Market Bill.

The prominent human rights lawyer told Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab she had “no alternative” but to leave the post she had held since April 2019.

The UK Government says the Bill would break international law in a “limited and specific way” by letting ministers rewrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK and EU about Northern Ireland.

It has been condemned by five former Prime Ministers and a series of former Tory leaders.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this week warned the US would not agree a trade deal with the UK if the Bill threatened the Good Friday peace agreement.

Ms Clooney said her role was meant to involve encouraging governments to follow international law.

She said: “I accepted the role because I believe in the importance of the cause, and appreciate the significant role that the UK has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order.

“In these circumstances I have been dismayed to learn that the Government intends to pass legislation - the Internal Market Bill - which would, by the Government’s own admission, ‘break international law’ if enacted.

“Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago.

“It threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world.”

Ms Clooney, who married actor George Clooney in 2014, said she was “disappointed” to resign as she had been proud of the UK’s reputation as a champion of international legal order, and “the culture of fair play”.

However “very sadly, it has now become untenable for me, as Special Envoy, to urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself.

“As the President of the Bar Council of England and Wales has affirmed, undermining the rule of law that ‘this country is built on ... will fatally puncture people’s faith in our justice system’.”

Meanwhile former UK International Trade Secretary and Brexiteer Dr Liam Fox has made it to the second round in the contest to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation.

The Scot remains one of five remaining candidates in the race for WTO director-general after three other contenders failed to secure enough votes.

Dr Fox would be the first British head of the WTO, which regulates international trade.

If the UK fails to secure a post-brexit trade deal with the UK, it would fall back on WTO terms, involving a series of tariffs.

Dr Fox said: “I see the role of the DG as building bridges and rebuilding trust across the world. “My time as a UK Minister in one of the world’s biggest economies with a respected development agenda allowed me to get a real sense of both opportunities and frustrations across the Membership. I am looking forward to continuing this campaign.”

Labrokes put him on fourth place to succeed at odds of 10/1.

Boris Johnson tweeted his congratulations, saying that “with a wealth of experience of institutional reform, and as a passionate advocate for international cooperation and free trade, the WTO would be in excellent hands” under Dr Fox’s leadership.