The Scottish conservatives are playing on Ruth Davidson's appeal

The Scottish Conservatives have released a manifesto that focuses firmly on opposition to the governing Scottish National party, the fight against independence, and the personal appeal of its leader Ruth Davidson.

Unusually for a UK party manifesto, the document released on Wednesday explicitly accepts that the Conservatives have no hope of forming the next Scottish government and instead aim to supplant Labour as the Holyrood parliament’s largest opposition.

“It is clear that the SNP are on course to win the Scottish election,” says Ms Davidson in the manifesto’s preamble, adding that she is instead a candidate for the “important vacancy” of leading a “strong opposition”.

The strategy highlights collapsing support for Labour in Scotland. Even though the Tories usually command less than 20 per cent in opinion polls north of the border, they believe there is a real chance of doing better than Labour.

The Conservative manifesto includes policies such as a pledge to protect National Health Service spending, resisting income tax hikes and scrapping the “named person” legislation that creates a single point of official contact for every child.

But the manifesto’s stress is on Ms Davidson’s claimed ability to “hold to account” the SNP. Polls suggest the nationalists will win a landslide victory on May 5 that will yield a clear parliamentary majority even under Scotland’s proportional representation voting system.

The Conservatives remain widely unpopular in Scotland, where many voters associate them with the industrial decline and social dislocation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

The Tories hope that the party’s high-profile role in opposing independence ahead of the 2014 referendum will help it to win over more pro-union voters. Ms Davidson says she is aiming to secure a record number of votes and Scottish parliament seats on May 5.

Other pro-union parties accuse Ms Davidson of intentionally seeking to keeping the issue of independence alive as a tactical manoeuvre, but the manifesto is unabashed in painting her party as the main bulwark against a renewed SNP effort to leave Scotland out of the UK.

“We will commit at this election to redouble our efforts to protect our place in the United Kingdom and ensure the country does not have to undergo a re-run of the referendum,” the manifesto says.

It also pledges to move beyond the stress on the risks of independence that dominated the 2014 pro-union campaign — an approach that became known as “Project Fear” — and instead to focus on the UK’s strengths and values.

“We will support the creation of a new UK-wide effort to promote the strengths and values of the union, fostering greater ties and solidarity across the entire United Kingdom,” the manifesto says.

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