A row has erupted between Scotland's political leaders over Ruth Davidson's failure to condemn the so-called "rape clause", which forces women to prove they have been raped in order to receive child tax credits.
The clause was brought into effect last week despite a long-running campaign led by the SNP to scrap it. The campaign has been backed by all leaders in Scotland except the Scottish Conservative leader.
Davidson's only comments on the matter have been through a spokesperson who failed to condemn the clause outright, and insisted that the measures for women who have been raped would be handled "with due care".
The spokesperson said: “During consultation on these reforms, the UK government put in place exemptions to protect women who are faced with very difficult circumstances so they can continue to receive child tax credit for all children in a household.
"We support these exemptions but there is clearly an obligation on the government, working with third-party agencies, to ensure that these cases are dealt with with all due care and attention."
After sustained pressure from newspapers and other politicians during this week, Davidson commented on the matter on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, saying only that the spokesperson represented her own view.
Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, responded to Davidson by saying the Scottish Conservative leader was "defending the indefensible" and challenged Davidson to defend the "rape clause" in her own words.
The leading campaigner against the "rape clause", SNP MP Alison Thewliss, told BuzzFeed News that Davidson's failure to condemn the measure confirmed the return of the Conservatives as "the nasty party".
"Ruth Davidson's failure to condemn the rape clause demonstrates a serious lack of leadership," said Thewliss. "It blows out of the water any notion of her credentials in Scotland if she can't or won't stand up against the damaging policies of her colleagues in London.
"Vulnerable women and families in Scotland needed her to help fight their corner and oppose this awful assault on family incomes by the UK government. Instead, Ruth Davidson is hiding behind her spokesperson when people need her support most."
Thewliss added: "It's sad to say but the events of the last 24 hours have shown the Tories for what they really are – the nasty party."
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wrote an article for the Daily Record on Tuesday, saying that Davidson's failure to condemn the "rape clause" showed "everything you need to know about the Tories".
Dugdale wrote: "Alison Thewliss has led a powerful campaign against the heartless Tory government on this crucial issue, and has secured cross-party support.
"I have nothing but praise for her tireless campaigning, and she has and will continue to receive the support of Labour MSPs and MPs in the hope of forcing the Tories into a U-turn.
"For Ruth Davidson has been silent on this issue. So today I make a direct plea to her: stand up for rape victims and tell Theresa May she is wrong."
Earlier, the SNP MSP Gillian Martin, who has also campaigned against the clause, condemned it as "barbaric and utterly disgraceful" and said it represented a "new low" for the Conservative UK government.
"In Scotland, Ruth Davidson has gone into hiding – leaving a party spokesperson to defend the policy to the hilt while she tries to distance herself from this embarrassment," said Martin.
“But it’s becoming untenable for Ruth Davidson to keep this up. She needs to give a clear, unequivocal statement on where she and her party stand on this vile policy."
BuzzFeed News has contacted Davidson for further comment.
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at email@example.com.
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