SCOTTISH Tories are “in total denial” about the misery and hardship their party is causing as a result of the rape clause, according to a leading SNP MP.

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, told the Sunday National that comments made by Scottish Conservative sport and wellbeing spokesman Brian Whittle yesterday – in which he claimed opposition parties used the rape clause solely as a way to attack the Tories – were “despicable”.

Under the clause, introduced by the Tories in April 2017, families can only claim the child support element of tax credits for more than two children if an additional child has been born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. It is claimed the policy is forcing tens of thousands into poverty.

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But speaking at a fringe event at the Scottish Conservative Aberdeen conference, the MSP for the South of Scotland claimed opposition parties were simply using it as “great marketing” in an attempt to attack Conservatives.

In December last year he tried to claim the rape clause had been “invented” by opposition parties. Yesterday he added: “I think it is fair to say the opposition have grasped hold of that [the rape clause] and are driving that really hard into us.

“The thing is this, we’re looking at a system where the question is, should there be an upper limit on social benefits? That’s a debate that has to happen and it’s a very legitimate debate. We think there should be a limit to what social security payments should be, and if we agree to what social security payments should be, you would accept there have to be exemptions to that.”

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The Tories were “getting beaten” for adding the exemption, added Whittle, when “the actual debate is around social security benefits”. He continued: “It’s not an easy one for Conservatives to get round, and I’ve been beaten for that as well.”

However, Thewliss said: “Brian Whittle’s comments are not only offensive, they’re totally heartless. He seems to be in total denial about the hardship and misery his own party is causing. The ‘rape clause’ is not a political invention – it’s an utterly horrific policy of the Tory Government, which has forced families across Scotland and the UK into poverty.”

Thewliss, who has called for the rape clause to be scrapped since it was first proposed in 2015 has previously claimed it is “morally wrong”, causes needless additional trauma and is “completely unworkable”. “It’s utterly despicable for Brian Whittle to have a go at opposition parties for ‘marketing’,” she told the Sunday National yesterday. “He should worry less about marketing, and more about the poverty his party is causing. The two child limit is unfair, and must be scrapped. His comments expose how little he actually knows about the impact of the two-child limit – it is already forcing families into poverty, with over 70,000 losing out last year.”

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She claimed two thirds of those families are in low-paid employment, with the restriction for those with more than two children making it harder to work than rely on benefits.

Lesley Laird, deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, also claimed it was “absolutely shameful” that Conservatives, including Ruth Davidson, support the “despicable Tory rape clause”.

Meanwhile, Davidson closed the conference with a speech pledging to bring about a “blue-collar revolution” that would get Scotland “on the right track”. In the speech – the run through of which was leaked last Friday evening after someone forgot to turn off her mic – she made a pitch to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister following Holyrood’s 2021 elections. The Scottish Tory leader said the choice voters would face would be between another SNP government led by Sturgeon “banging on about independence” and a Conservative administration that would offer a “brighter horizon”.

She said: “As First Minister, I won’t use every engagement with the UK Government as a chance to sow division. I’ll use it as a chance to deliver a better government for the people who live here.”

But SNP depute leader Keith Brown said she, like Theresa May, was “running scared of democracy”.

He added: “Support for independence is on the rise, and the Tories can see that, which is what lies behind their utterly undemocratic move to block the people of Scotland having a say on their future.”