It’s an old nationalist adage that Scotland and its politicians lack clout at Westminster; that it’s ignored, overlooked, irrelevant.

Although never true – 10 years ago Scottish MPs occupied Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street – the profile (and therefore influence) Nicola Sturgeon enjoys in the London-based media ought to put that particular grievance to rest.

As should the rise of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who yesterday dominated coverage of the Tory party conference in Manchester. A few years ago, the UK Conservatives regarded their Scottish counterparts as a lost cause, now they talk of its leader as a future Prime Minister.

Although there have been miss-steps – David Mundell’s handling of the DUP-Tory deal and the re-admittance of two wayward (and therefore expendable) Tory councillors – after decades in the doldrums the Scottish Conservative Party finally seems to be getting its act together.

Take, for example, Davidson’s continuing pops at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Last year, when it looked as if BoJo might seize the Tory crown, senior Scottish Tories spoke openly of declaring party political UDI. They realised Johnson threatened their modest recovery, and frankly he still does. “Clear blue water between Ruth and Boris,” says one minister, remains the aim.

And judging from Davidson’s speech yesterday, the party is continuing to build a clear One Nation strategy, continuing to hint at the “threat” of another independence referendum but focusing on the “day job” failures of the Scottish Government while working up a plan for government.

The party’s policy review, meanwhile, is in its early stages, although the summer has been spent engaging with policy people in Edinburgh and London. But it’s already led to a shift in emphasis, speeches since recess on housing and education, together with Davidson’s intervention on reshaping capitalism.

In a recent article for the website Conservative Home, MSP and policy chief Donald Cameron also wrote of replacing the SNP’s “press releases and symbols” with substantial policies. He also acknowledged that “society does indeed exist”, continuing the process of unpicking Thatcherite rhetorical damage. Too often, he added, Conservatives have been seen “as all abacus and no heart”.

Decades ago, it was Scottish Unionists who revitalised UK Conservatism, pamphleteers and thinkers like Noel Skelton, Walter Elliot and John Buchan urging a moderate policy agenda, what the Anglo-Scot Harold Macmillan called a “Middle Way”. In another article for Conservative Home, MSP Murdo Fraser reminded the party of the need “to adopt a more liberal tone than some of our English counterparts”.

Nevertheless, the Scottish Tories see opportunities ahead if income tax rises and fracking is banned, opening up space for some traditional conservatism too. Scottish Labour’s travails also strengthen their hand. Kezia Dugdale was actually quite a difficult opponent for Davidson, but the same is unlikely to be true of either Anas Sarwar or Richard Leonard.

Yesterday, meanwhile, Davidson also continued to articulate the “nationalist unionism” required of any Unionist politician. Historically, this has been rather lopsided, more concerned with strengthening the Scottish periphery rather than the Unionist core, so Davidson’s call for “more Union” was striking, as was her critique of the UK as “far too London-centric”.

It was, after all, Scottish Conservatives who for decades promoted what was known as “administrative devolution”, dispersing civil service jobs – from both Scottish and UK departments – north from Whitehall. So, this is nothing new, indeed the recent Tory manifesto included such a pledge, but to argue that London ought to share its power and prestige with other UK cities was long overdue.

The proof, of course, will be in the pudding. Conscious that it now has competition when it comes to “standing up for Scotland”, the SNP launches regular attacks on what it calls the Scottish Tories’ “invisible” group of MPs at Westminster. Yesterday, Davidson told the BBC she was lobbying the Treasury ahead of the forthcoming Budget, but what’s she likely to get from a Chancellor already facing similar demands from his colleagues?

And while continued speculation about Davidson stepping up to become UK Conservative leader is good for her profile, it’s also – as the Scottish Tory leader has said herself – “preposterous”. With her party’s political strategy based around her continuing as leader until the 2021 Holyrood election, “it’s just not going to happen”, according to one senior source. And even were Davidson to be freed up in four years’ time, what she’s called an “internal Tory psychodrama” will surely have resolved itself by then.

Today at conference Scottish Secretary David Mundell will argue that the only way to “guarantee” a second independence referendum is taken off the table “once and for all is to install Ruth Davidson as Scotland’s First Minister”, which is a risky (if necessary) pitch. Even Scottish Tory MSPs speak of the next election producing a three-way split between the SNP, Labour and Tories, and in such a scenario it looks unlikely that Davidson would emerge as First Minister, even were her party the largest.

Others also have this scenario in mind. Labour MEP David Martin recently urged his party to swallow its tribalism and consider a post-2021 coalition with the SNP, while former Cabinet Secretary Kenny MacAskill yesterday urged the same from the opposite direction. It appears a quixotic hope, but then who knows if the alternative for two left-of-centre nationalist parties is Ruth Davidson as First Minister?

Even so, the very existence of such speculation is testament to the position in which Davidson finds herself. Until the 2014 independence referendum, “Project Ruth” had produced little in policy or electoral terms, but now she’s riding a Unionist backlash, exploiting the leadership vacuum in her own party and getting a rapturous reception in Manchester. How it all ends will be resolved in four years’ time, but until then it’s quite a political spectacle.