DOUGLAS Ross has launched his party’s election campaign with an appeal to tactical voters to “rediscover the Better Together spirit” of 2014 and deny the SNP a Holyrood majority.

The Scottish Tory leader said he wanted “pro-UK voters” to unite behind one campaign and one party to make a second independence referendum a dead issue and prioritise economic recovery from the pandemic.

Putting the constitution front-and-centre, he urged voters to rediscover the spirit of the cross-party No campaign of 2014 “to defeat the SNP’s campaign for separation”.

However he baulked at the idea of an electoral pact in which the Tories soft-pedalled in seats where Labour or the Liberal Democrats were clear challengers to the SNP.

He merely said he was willing to work with the other parties to thwart the SNP, but did not say how.

With a Survation poll for the Press and Journal today showing the Tories falling behind Labour, Mr Ross inisted he would not resign as leader if his party came third.

He said: "In the 2014 Independence Referendum we all came together as one campaign strong enough to defeat nationalism.

"We might not have agreed on everything, or even many things.

"But we embraced Better Together because we knew it could stop the SNP’s drive towards independence in its tracks.

"That we could get the focus in Scotland back onto the things that really matter.

"We need everyone - the majority in Scotland - who wants recovery over a referendum to again unite behind one campaign to deliver that result.

"And the only political party that has the strength and the determination to stand up to the SNP, that can be the vehicle that we unite behind to stop another referendum, that allows us to say no to independence again, is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party."

HeraldScotland:

At a campaign event in Aberdeen, Mr Ross also set out proposals on jobs, growth, schools, childcare support and improving infrastructure.

Boris Johnson last year rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s request for powers to hold Indyref2, saying the No result of seven years ago should stand for a generation.

With the Scottish Government publishing a draft Referendum Bill this week, Mr Ross claimed the SNP were intent on holding Indyref2 regardless of the legality.

He said: “Over the coming weeks up to the election, the Scottish Conservatives will set out our positive plan for Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus.

“Yet none of that can happen if the SNP win a majority and take Scotland through another divisive independence referendum at the earliest opportunity.

“I do not want to go through the division of another referendum at any time.

“But it is even more important now that we do not make the current economic crisis worse by manufacturing a political crisis.

“The SNP don’t want this election to be about their record in government over the last 14 years. Or their programme for government in the next five years.

“They want this election to be about one thing and one thing only - independence.

“So in this election, it’s a straight choice between two futures. The dividing lines are clear.

“Divide Scotland now – or Rebuild Scotland over the next five years. Referendum – or recovery. An SNP majority and indyref2 - or the Scottish Conservatives stopping them.

“Scotland’s future is on the line. So we have to come together again. Rediscover that Better Together spirit that enabled us to defeat the SNP’s campaign for separation.

“There is a majority in Scotland for delivering our recovery over a referendum.

“If you want to say no to another referendum, bring an end to division and focus on rebuilding Scotland, then let’s unite that majority and together secure our recovery.”

Better Together included the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats at the last independence campaign, and was led by former Labour Chancellor Lord Darling.

It was widely seen as a tactical mistake by Labour to work so closely with the Tories, and none of the parties has shown any inclination to repeat the exercise. 

The SNP has since used the term to mock the Unionist parties at Holyrood.

Mr Ross’s bid to rehabilitate it suggests he thinks there are votes in baiting the SNP and being the focus of their anger, painting the Tories as the most Unionist brand.

Questioned after the launch, Mr Ross refused to define what he would regard as success in an election.

The Tories almost doubled their MSPs to 31 in 2016, overtsaking Labour to be the main opposition.

He said he did not want to "limit his ambitions".

Asked if would quit if his party fell into third place, he said simply: "No."

Asked if he was simply using the Better Together tag to mine votes for the Tories, rather than working cross-party as the Unionists did in 2014, he said: “I’m not ashamed of (Better Together), I’m proud of that, but it does seem from the reaction of the Scottish Labour Party that they are ashamed, that they don’t want to work with pro-UK parties to stop the SNP, to get our focus off a referendum and back on recovery.

“That’s why I’m disappointed that Anas Sarwar, like his predecessor, has refused to work with the Scottish Conservatives if it means getting the SNP out of power after 14 years of failure.

“But I’ll continue to make that offer, I’ll continue to hold that olive branch to say we can work together to end this 14 years of the SNP distracting Scottish politics with constitutional issues rather than focusing Scottish politics on our recovery and rebuilding Scotland.”