This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

For an event that boasts a tagline of “long-term thinking for a brighter future”, the Conservative Party conference in Manchester sure looks like a temporary sticking plaster.

The party can be in no doubt that without something drastic happening, not completely out of the question, it will lose power at next year’s general election.

But the conference is taking place in a context of panic stations and short-term political thinking to try and close the pretty substantial gap in the polls with Keir Starmer’s Labour.

Net zero has been talked down, so much so that Tory Transport Secretary Mark Harper ended up spreading a conspiracy theory about 15-minute neighborhoods – all in a desperate bid for votes by slandering Labour.

Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho also used her first big speech as a minister to claim falsely that Labour has proposed a meat tax.

For the Scottish Tories, they have had very little to do with the conference – nobody is talking about Douglas Ross’s party.

All of the Scottish events took place on Sunday, the first day of the conference – with either the rail strikes or the lack of interest putting off delegates from showing up in huge numbers.

Mr Ross’s push has been on a message that “forgotten” communities have been left behind under the SNP Government.

His party thrives when independence is the only argument being made – Scottish Labour’s failure to have a clear message on the constitution has seen it suffer in the past – and the Scottish Tories could suffer the same fate if the public is not convinced the Union is still under threat.

Michael Gove’s speech on Tuesday was delivered with enthusiasm but many delegates left nattering that he is “yesterday’s man” and not who the Tories will need to turn to after the next general election.

The Herald: Michael Gove – 'yesterday's man' for the Tories?Michael Gove – 'yesterday's man' for the Tories? (Image: Newsquest)
Mr Ross’s message that the Union is still under siege was somewhat undermined by Mr Gove when he insisted that “nationalism is in retreat in Scotland”, adding that “the Unno has been strengthened”.

That’s not the message the Scottish Tories, arguably playing the constitution card more than the SNP of late, want to send out to voters.

The conference has largely been overshadowed by the row over HS2.

No-one in the party who brought us Partygate and the Liz Truss show would surely have foreseen the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who flew up to Manchester, set to announce to a room full of activists and politicians, the majority of which will have driven to the conference due to rail strikes, that the key rail project is to be cut short, while physically in the city that will miss out.

Adding to the irony, the conference is being held in what was Manchester’s former central station.

Whether it was intentional or not, Mr Ross’s own demands for Scotland were rather cutting on the shambolic HS2 – calling for major infrastructure projects to start away from the Central Belt in harder to reach places – potentially a disguised criticism of the Prime Minister’s rail project that will still serve London if it is cut short.

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It was either a mark of how much the HS2 story won’t go away or the changing tides in British politics that Labour mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was the centre of an old-fashioned media scrum when he arrived at the conference, with several Tory ministers simply ignored on the sidelines by the media.

The Conservative Party conference is probably the only place on earth where UK Government ministers are seen as celebrities.

Jeremy Hunt, flanked by six heavies, stopped to sign a party activist’s conference programme – an arena where the Chancellor is treated like a rockstar.

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory MP David Duguid was seen deep in conversation with McVities chiefs over their biscuits.

Before unofficially launching her bid to replace Rishi Sunak as Tory leader, Suella Braverman was pictured standing on a dog – no joke needed about immigration dog whistles here.

Sainsbury’s Scalextric game was proving a bit hit with activists, but so was Tory exile Nigel Farage – named by the New Statesman this week as the most influential person in conservative politics.

The Prime Minister said he could see Mr Farage joining the party, a view echoed by Scottish Tory MP and minister Andrew Bowie. The former UKIP leader and Brexit campaigner has been a popular face with Tory activists, stopping to take selfies at every and any opportunity.

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It’s also interesting to see the businesses putting themselves forward for the Conservatives – energy is very much at the centre of it all.

Ineos are here, as is BP with the Tories’ support for fossil fuels unwavering.

But the energies of the future are also prominent including hydrogen technology and carbon capture pledges.

If ever a reminder was needed that the Conservatives will use trans people to launch a culture war, a stall run by anti-trans rights group LGB Alliance is a blunt marker to put down.

The Tories are on an emergency footing for the next election – the prospects for the party look dismal.

This conference has focused on looking at populist policies to try and squeeze support from Labour – immigration and net zero are under fire.

But the party is also looking to the future and who can help the Tories rebuild if it does have to vacate Downing Street next year.