THE single, biggest cheer at the Perth Tory hustings? That went to Liz Truss for emphatically declaring that “a woman is a woman”.

It would seem that there is minimal sympathy for gender fluidity within the ranks of Scottish Conservatives.

Indeed, both she and Rishi Sunak took time to lampoon what they, variously, characterised as woke, Lefty identity politics. They know their audience.

However, the most prolonged and consistent applause arose in response to their attacks upon the SNP and their utter rejection of a further independence referendum.

Liz Truss said no, indeed never, to indyref2. Rishi Sunak wobbled a little, rashly acknowledging that Scotland and England are in a Union by consent.

However, he swiftly recovered to stress that he could not imagine circumstances in which, as Prime Minister, he would sanction a further referendum in Scotland.

So far, so familiar. Such certainty may or may not endure through the Supreme Court hearing and the next UK general election in 2024.

For now, I am more immediately interested in the two candidates each declaring that they intend to defeat the SNP in Scotland, to return the Tories to a leading role north of the Border.

Now, let us be clear. By winning in Scotland, they meant that next UK election, expected in two years. Not Holyrood.

Perhaps that is understandable. It is the pending battle. It is the looming electoral challenge for whichever candidate wins this Tory contest.

However, there is more happening here. Both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss want to resurrect the relevance of UK governance for the entirety of these islands, Scotland included.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “one nation Conservativism”. They have a nation in mind, and it is the United Kingdom.

Rishi Sunak spoke of his frustration that certain key economic levers are devolved. So much for sharing.

Liz Truss said she would work with Nicola Sturgeon but, crucially, would use her “powers of persuasion” to convince the First Minister to fall into line with UK policies.

In a way, it is the mirror image of the long-standing SNP strategy which has been to seek to govern efficiently within the powers of devolution, while simultaneously suggesting that much more could be done with independence.

The two Tory candidates want to counter that offer of independence by stressing the potential power of the UK to benefit Scotland.

The Scottish Tories used to say that they were the guarantors of devolved self-government in that they would defend Holyrood’s powers and prevent a slide towards independence.

For Douglas Ross, that may still be the underlying theme. But there was no such talk in Perth this week. Rather, the emphasis was entirely upon UK governance. Indeed, the offer from both candidates was to circumvent devolution, where possible, and to implement Westminster policy.

Now, of course, this fits a pattern. If you want a cheap round of applause at a Scottish Tory gathering, you have only to say that you support “the Conservative AND UNIONIST Party”.

Somehow, I always imagine those words in capital letters. As do the audience, who will cheer wildly.

Only a few pedants (like me) would quietly remind the faithful that the conjoined title has little to do with Scotland, directly, as it originally derives from defending the Union with Ireland against Gladstone’s plans to devolve power to Dublin.

Still, it is a single transferable slogan.

If, instead of applause, you want to win a bet in a pub, just ask: which is the only party since universal suffrage to win a popular majority in Scotland?

Yes, yes, the Liberals used to win out of the park in the 19th century. Not them. Give up? Well, of course, razor-sharp Herald readers know it was the Tories in 1955, standing then as the Scottish Unionists.

So, could Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak revive those days or at least put the Tories back on top of the pile?

At first glance, the prospects are less than propitious. For one thing, the Conservatives lost second place to Labour in the May Scottish local elections. The SNP were firmly first.

You might say that was at the height of the Partygate row. Perhaps the departure of Boris Johnson, allied to the passage of time and the influence of a new leader will work.

But just how “new” is the replacement leader. Rishi Sunak eventually resigned but he was a core member of the Johnson team. Liz Truss, the likely winner, remains in office, gallantly or foolishly defending the exiting Prime Minister.

Plus, since that time, the state of the economy, already perilous, has markedly worsened. The public discourse is of sporadic strikes and a cost of living crisis, underlined this week by double digit inflation.

Scarcely circumstances in which an incumbent UK Government can expect public adulation.

Especially when the two contenders offer completely different approaches to tax. Do they think the voters will simply forget that fundamental dispute, once this contest is over? Or will they, rather, use it as a template to assess developments?

And what to expect in Scotland? The Scottish Conservatives gained second place, partly by corralling supporters of the Union into their pend and partly owing to the decline of fractious Labour.

However, the SNP still seem entrenched at the top, holding on to Scottish support by offering staunch defence of Scottish interests.

Plus those local elections suggest Labour might become more serious rivals again.

To win in Scotland, the Tories need Union Plus. They have to bank Unionism and then build support for their economic and social policies.

So, what did we hear in Perth? We heard Liz Truss promise tax cuts and we heard Rishi Sunak excoriate the SNP for spending too much, as he saw it, on welfare.

Either of those likely to prove a credible formula to gain lasting, widespread support in Scotland?

We heard an emphasis on implementing UK-wide strategies, even where issues like health are devolved.

Reckon that will go down well in Scotland, even if we assume that the practical obstacle of devolved power can be surmounted?

I suspect the winner, when declared, may need to think again.