The Scottish Conservatives are hoping to double their Westminster seats at next year’s general election – as the party pushes a message that the SNP Government has left communities behind.

Douglas Ross’s party go into the crunch election, set to take place before the end of the next year, lagging in the polls – behind the SNP and Labour, who are neck and neck.

But with the seats the Conservatives are hoping to be competitive in north of the Border pitting them against the SNP, the party is once again playing the constitution card to woo voters.

The chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Craig Hoy, told The Herald on Sunday that the party is “cautiously optimistic” about its changes at the ballot box next year, ahead of this week’s UK party conference in Manchester.

Read more: Tory MSP Maurice Golden refuses to back party after Net Zero U-turns

Mr Hoy suggested that his party is hoping to double the tally of six Westminster seats – with potential targets including Angus, Ayr and Ayrshire and in Perthshire.

He said that “it is quite clear we’ve got an opportunity next year” adding “that’s giving us some optimism even at a point in time when the party UK-wide has obviously got some challenges”.

He said: “Obviously there's six seats that we hold, they are fought on new boundaries that brings in potentially another couple of seats, that notionally are very much in play.

“We wouldn't pick a number, in terms of a measure of success, but there are in or around a dozen seats in Scotland where we are, I think, very much in contention.

“We've selected the candidates for those seats and campaigns have begun.

“It's not just in rural areas, it’s in areas like Ayr and Ayrshire, for example, where people have been left behind and have been forgotten.”

Despite the SNP’s plans for independence seemingly hitting a road block, Mr Hoy has insisted that the Union is still under attack.

Mr Hoy added: “I wouldn't I wouldn't say that the SNP’s strategy is dead in the water, it's just more extreme than Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon would have pursued.

“I think you can argue that that's because the First Minister is delusional. I don’t think it is. I think it's because he's pursuing a dangerous course of action at the next election, which is to turn it into a proxy independence referendum.

“All other avenues are closed because the public didn't want another independence referendum.

“They care only about independence and the constitution because that’s their only priority. For once, they’ve actually been really honest about what the election is going to be about.

“The next election is a proxy independence referendum and as a result of that, we will be pointing that out in seats up and down the country.”

The Tory chief also insisted that the party’s MSPs are completely behind Mr Ross’s leadership, while he suggested that no action will be taken against Conservative MSP Maurice Golden who voted against the party at Holyrood last week over climate action.

Mr Hoy told The Herald on Sunday that when Liz Truss’s Conservative premiership was falling to bits, “there was a lot of frustration” within the party, “including in Scotland…about what was happening with the leadership down south”.

But he insisted: “Under Douglas, there's a clear sense of what we need to focus on as people's real priorities.”

Asked whether Mr Golden will face punishment for breaking the Tory whip by voting against the party in a debate about climate action and the Prime Minister’s reversal over net zero, Mr Hoy suggested he will escape punishment.

The Herald: Craig Hoy

Mr Hoy said: “There's a debate to be had in all political parties about how far and how fast we go towards net zero.

“What is crystal clear and where Maurice is absolutely on the same page as the rest of us, is there used to be a consensus in Scottish politics, that oil and gas is part of our journey towards net zero.

“And we're the only party now that still accepts that and we are on the side I think of, of reality.”

Mr Hoy stressed that “one of our distinct offerings coming up the next election” will be to set out a net zero strategy “in a way that takes the country with us”.

Read more: Analysis: UK Government fails to reap benefits of net zero

Pressed again whether Mr Golden will face punishment for breaking the whip, Mr Hoy said: “I think Maurice really is quite clear in relation to environmental considerations.

“I compare and contrast that with Fergus Ewing who is at odds with his party on almost every fundamental issue be it dualling of roads, be it on the oil and gas sector, be it on the deposit return scheme.”

It is understood that nobody from the party has spoken to Mr Golden after he voted against a Conservative motion, but Mr Golden has pulled out of a series of environmental events at this week’s party conference in Manchester in an apparent bid to keep a low profile.

The party chairman stressed that election pledges from the Prime Minister will not swamp any Scotland-specific plans set out – and will act as a launchpad for the Scottish Tories’ next Holyrood manifesto.

He said: “The policy priorities that we will come forward with in the next election will be complementary to the UK manifesto pledges.

“We recognise in Scotland in particular, because of the fact that the SNP have run down our public services so badly, that we actually need to come up with distinctly Scottish policies, which the UK Government can help implement in Scotland.”

Mr Hoy said the economy and the priorities the party set out in an economic paper over the summer, will form key pledges going into the election.

Read more: Analysis: Douglas Ross's economic blueprint hides an election plan of attack

He said: “I think what you'll see as the election approaches, and Douglas will probably preview some of this at the weekend, we set out recently the Grasping the Thistle paper on the Scottish economy.

In the paper, Mr Ross unveiled plans to create a "joint economic board" comprising ministers from the Scottish and UK governments to drive productivity.

He also took aim at the Scottish Government's economic record and prospect of further rises to income tax for those on higher salaries.

“We're setting out some quite clear dividing lines on issues like tax.”

He warned that the SNP Government’s tax strategy is “making Scotland a less competitive place to do business”.

He added: “In the run-up to the next general election, there will be four or five key retail policies that address the people's priorities, and they will be tangible.”

Although the Scottish Conservatives are the official opposition at Holyrood with the second largest number of MSPs, a perception persists that Labour, which is flying high in the polls, is matching up better to Mr Yousaf’s Government.

But Mr Hoy has stressed that Anas Sarwar’s party are frequently supportive of SNP policies.

He said Labour as the most effective opposition is a “bubble issue”, rather than being the view of the public.

Mr Hoy added: “Fundamentally, when you talk about Labour being in opposition to the SNP, when you look at the voting record view in the Scottish Parliament, rather than standing up to the SNP they are standing with the SNP.”

Mr Hoy pointed to Labour’s support of the gender recognition reforms, hate crime legislation and rent controls.

He added : "So actually in 90% of the issues, Anas Sarwar and his MSPs are supporting Humza Yousaf and the SNP.

“Scottish Labour and the SNP are, very often, supporting the same policies.”