RUTH Davidson put independence and the General Election at the heart of the Scottish Tory bid to take over the country’s town halls.

Unveiling the local election manifesto in Edinburgh yesterday morning, Davidson said voters could “make clear their priorities” at the local elections on May 4. The SNP claimed the Tories were “preoccupied” with independence.

The Tory manifesto, given the moniker, Localism for Growth, was, Davidson said, a challenge to the SNP’s decade of centralisation. This vote was, she said: “to ensure we have local councils focused on your school and your local services, not on a divisive referendum campaign most people don’t want.

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“We have two key points to make at this election. After 10 years of SNP centralisation, we want to make the case for localism – so decisions are put back in the hands of your local community. And, after a decade of constitutional division, we want to send a message to the SNP: we don’t want your unwanted independence referendum.

“Every Scottish Conservative councillor who is elected on May 4 will demand nothing less.”

The party’s local government spokesman Graham Simpson added: “Scotland is fast becoming one of the most centralised countries in the western world.

“The SNP Government reserves for itself the right to make the vast majority of economic decisions, so local authorities have been relegated to mere service providers. We need to empower councils and give them a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. They can and must be the engines of growth.”

Yvonne McLellan, co-convener of the Scottish Greens’ elections and campaigns committee said the Tory “attempt to turn the council elections into a vote on the constitution” was “shamless”.

“This is the party that would sell off council services if it got the chance, and whose cruel welfare cuts are causing real hardship in our communities and putting council services under extra strain,” McLellan argued.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Aelx Rowley said it was vital to “keep the Tories out of our town halls” for the “the future of our public services”.

“We cannot entrust vital services like schools, care for the elderly and housing to a party that delivered the bedroom tax, the rape clause and Jobcentre closures,” the Fife MSP claimed.

He added: “We have foodbanks in communities up and down Scotland as a direct result of failed Tory austerity and growing pressure on local services. The Tories cannot be trusted.”

Meanwhile, the SNP pointed out that at least 10 Tory council candidates have now found themselves caught up in allegations of racism and right-wing extremism.

Among those were George McIntyre, who called for Muslims to “sod off” out of the UK, while Ken MacBrayne said immigration would lead to “European women raped or forced to convert to Islam”.

Ruth Davidson has a real problem here – up and down the country her party have nominated a ragtag band of racists and right-wingers to run our local services. One or two rogue outbursts can be explained away, but this seems to be completely endemic,” an SNP spokesman said.

“With three candidates suspended for anti-Muslim outbursts and apologies issued for a whole host of others, the Tories are quickly becoming Scotland’s Ukip.”