Page last updated at 23:44 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Tories' day of reckoning beckons

annabel goldie and david cameron
Annabel Goldie and David Cameron need to win votes in Scotland

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

It may only be one day long - but short and sweet is exactly how the Conservatives want their spring Scottish conference to go.

There will only be two words on the lips of delegates travelling to Perth - general election.

The party will tell you its band of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament are doing just fine.

They will tell you they managed to extract key concessions from the SNP government during the recent budget talks - including more openness on public spending as well as an independent review of that spending.

But Scotland isn't about to enter into a Scottish election - it's about to enter into a UK one which brings a whole different set of challenges when it comes to doing the business on polling day.

Not that the Conservatives don't have to worry about the rest of the country.

In order to win an outright majority at the next UK election, David Cameron needs a 6.9% swing - that would be the biggest to the Tories since 1945 and larger than the 5.3% one which brought Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.

The Conservatives' message at their Scottish conference is simple - there can be no complacency and every vote counts

To put it another way, they need to hold the number of seats they have and win 116 more - with constituency boundary changes in England adding to the uncertainty.

Not that this is impossible, given the various challenges Labour is facing, but the Tories will have to work hard.

The party has just one MP in Scotland - David Mundell - and wants to hold that seat - Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale - as well as gaining 10 more.

The Tory hit squad is looking to take out two Cabinet members - Chancellor Alistair Darling in Edinburgh South West and Jim Murphy, the Scottish secretary, in East Renfrewshire.

In last year's Euro elections, Labour came third in East Renfrewshire, behind the Tories and SNP.

At the same time though, Mr Cameron is all too aware of the "no mandate" argument used during Thatcher's time - that if the party forming the government of the day has little or no representation in Scotland, then it can't speak for Scotland.

Recession talk

This is a pre-devolution argument - but there are still contentious reserved issues affecting Scotland, such as Trident, nuclear energy and, of course, war.

Mr Cameron has been telling audiences in Scotland for some time now he will respect the powers of the Holyrood government - while stressing respect for who holds which powers is a two-way street.

That, however, is a tough sell to Alex Salmond.

Other issues likely to come to the fore include the economy and how any public spending cuts by the next UK government would hit Scotland.

Tory MSPs have been doing their bit in this area with repeated use of the phrase "Labour's recession" - even during parliamentary occasions designed to hold the government to account.

In the election to come, the Conservative leadership says the party needs to win votes across Scotland - in fact Scottish leader Annabel Goldie says the number of seats gained north of the border could decide whether Mr Cameron gets the keys to Number 10.

So, the Conservatives' message at their Scottish conference is simple - there can be no complacency and every vote counts.

Even one day can be a long time in politics.

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