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High stakes as May's Brexit speech brings indyref2 closer

I spoke to Ruth Davidson for tonight's Representing Border. Credit: ITV Border

When Ruth Davidson first claimed that she could revive the Conservatives north of the Border, she was greeted with a mixture of scorn, hostility and quite a lot of patronising faux pity.

Ms Davidson was deluded, the sages said. The 'toxic Tories' would never rise again in Scotland. The days when the Conservative and Unionist party was a power in the land were gone for good.

Yet with a combination of dogged determination, talent, a populist eye for a photo-call and some political fortune Ms Davidson has taken the Tories to the position of being the largest opposition group at Holyrood, beating Labour into third place.

Set you - and she - might have thought for the next phase which would have been the local government elections this May.

But then along come the Brexit referendum and Ms Davidson found herself plunged into a battle not of her choosing where as a 'remain' campaigner she was pitted against fellow Tories arguing for Leave.

Like most of the people on her side, from the Prime Minister down, the Scottish Tory leader must have thought she would win, which might explain how ferociously she went after colleagues like Boris Johnson.

But she lost and is now spending a considerable amount of her time being forced to defend something she did not vote for, and the conduct of the Brexit process by the Prime Minister Theresa May.

Theresa May Credit: PA

Now I can't read Ms Davidson's mind but she would not be human if she wasn't frustrated at this turn of events though she certainly put up a strong defence of Mrs May.

In an interview for Tonight's Representing Border, I asked the Scottish Tory leader whether she stood by her opinion, expressed in July, that the UK should remain in the single market, something the Prime Minister explicitly ruled out today.

Ms Davidson told me:

Of course I wanted to stay in the single market, that's why I voted Remain and if there was another campaign tomorrow I would vote in it because that was the structure that was there which allowed us to trade freely. The Prime Minister says she wanted to get to the same end but change the structure in there. Leaving the EU means were going to leave some of the structures of the EU but she wants to have the same end game the same ability for Scottish firms to trade as freely as possible. She deserves our support in trying to get the best deal as we leave."

– Ruth Davidson

Now I've just interviewed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about Theresa May's speech, also for tonight's Representing Border.

She is saying that because the Prime Minister's speech rules out being part of the single market a second independence referendum is more likely. Perhaps we should say even more likely.

A special deal for Scotland where the country would in some way be part of the single market while the UK left the EU was a key demand of the SNP Scottish government.

Unless there is some extraordinary about-turn, and that's highly unlikely, it's now clear it is not going to happen.

To say Ms Sturgeon was scathing about her Tory rival's position would be to understate her reaction somewhat.

She accused Ms Davidson of "calling black white" and of changing her position over a relatively short period of time.

The First Minister is adamant that the Scottish government has been reasonable over Brexit, and compromised, only to be snubbed by Whitehall. Ms Davidson sees the SNP's stance differently, however.

She told me: "There's not a single thing the PM could have said today that wouldn't have the SNP screaming for a second independence referendum."

The outcome of all of this? Well, because of what she sees as a hard line taken by the Prime Minister, the First Minister is moving Scotland closer to what is known as indyref2.

For Ms Davidson, she can expect to spend a lot more time defending what one might charitably call a difficult position on behalf of her party.

On today's evidence she is certainly doing so with some gusto.

Ms Davidson's calculation? Again, I cannot read her mind but it is probably that even if she gets a hard time on Brexit, the people of Scotland - in her view - are not enthusiastic for a second independence referendum.

It's worth saying Ms Sturgeon won't be calling one this year, but it could well be the year after.

High stakes for both politicians, for Scotland, the United Kingdom and indeed for the future of Europe.

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