GIVEN politics is already a cruel business, it makes little sense to goad it into doing its worst.

Yet Douglas Ross seemed determined to make a perilous situation more dangerous still.

Before partygate, even before Boris Johnson became PM, the Scottish Tory leader should have known this council election was going to be an uphill struggle.

His party was a hostage to its own success. In 2017, the party, then under Ruth Davidson, had exceeded its wildest expectations.

Fuelled by Nicola Sturgeon’s rash promise a few weeks earlier to hold another referendum on the back of Brexit, the Tories were able to focus the anti-SNP backlash.

Ms Davidson’s troops surged from 115 councillors to 276, while Labour slumped from 394 to 262.

The Tories moved into second place, but by just 14 councillors.

It was the party’s best result in 35 years. It was always highly unlikely that such a high level of support would be repeated.

But Mr Ross spoke and acted as if the maths was on his side.

As late as Monday, he told the Herald: “I’m really confident that we will maintain second place and we will have a really good result.”

That would have been foolhardy at the best of times. But after six months of Westminster sleaze, partygate and the cost of living crisis, it was little short of idiotic.

Yesterday he said voters had sent a message “they are not happy with the prime minister, they are not happy with partygate”, as if it was nothing to do with him.

But Mr Ross was no passive observer. He launched himself headlong into the row over Mr Johnson’s future by demanding he quit then demanding he stay.

As the former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins tweeted: “Douglas Ross owns this, not Boris. It was Douglas who u-turned, Douglas who flipped, and Douglas who backed the PM. He and his team need to own the consequences.”

There was palpable anger among Tory activists at counts yesterday. They knew what was coming, but their leader did nothing to avert it, only made himself look ridiculous.

His judgment, like that of the PM, is now under the microscope.

One Tory source said the party hierarchy had been in denial for weeks. Another that it “needs to be having a closer examination of its strategy or even develop one”.

As to what it all means for the constitution and Indyref2, that’s harder to say.

The SNP got stronger, although not by much, as did the Greens, more healthily. But the third pro-independence party, Alba, was categorically rejected by voters.

The two main unionist parties traded second and third place, while overall the number of Unionist councillors fell by around 20.

Perhaps the key development is that the Tories have lost their grip on the Union card.

The party is no longer the main refuge for those worried by the SNP. Voters have shown they will back Labour and the Liberal Democrats instead.

As Mr Ross rues his choices this weekend, Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton will be looking at how to build on their progress to make a Labour-LibDem coalition a serious prospect on the far side of the 2026 Holyrood election.