At the risk of giving the Scottish Conservatives far more ether-coverage than they are used to, or they deserve, another blogpost from me on their leadership contest.
Reliable sources, as they say, advise that she will stand and that she is garnering support from some of the party’s big guns. Apparently, the constituency party with the most members, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (John Lamont MSP’s seat), will vote for her. So too will David Mundell MP’s seat, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Ditto John Scott MSP’s Ayr.
And these three constituencies count for big swathes of the party’s membership. It also indicates that not only does Ms Davidson carry the outgoing leader, Annabel Goldie’s, patronage but support from some of the party’s biggest hitters. In a party of 15 MSPs and 1 MP, she has effectively sewn up a quarter of that high level support. No doubt there are others in the wings too. Struan Stevenson MEP touted her leadership qualities when Malc and I caught up with him in Strasbourg in June (as you do) so there’s another of the party’s elected representatives in her court. And Struan’s a popular figure whose opinion will also count.
Anyone with a geography O/standard grade will have worked out that so far Ms Davidson’s support is from the South of Scotland. Murdo Fraser MSP is also likely to stand and no doubt he will pick up most of his support from his North East – ahem – heartlands. Like Jackson Carlaw, though, he’s tainted. While he has bestrode (bestridden?) this part of Scotland like a colossus, traditionally Tory territory has fallen to the Nats. Like snaw off a dyke, as the FM might, and probably did, say.
During his tenure as Depute Tory leader, his patch has been put through the wringer and turned totally yellow. They don’t count SNP votes anymore in these constituencies, they weigh them. Moreover, there appears to be a bit of a move on in the party to keep Murdo out. And anyone who has ever stood for political election, either internally or externally, knows you care little about why people vote for you, you just want them to vote for you. Ms Davidson therefore will accept such anti-Murdo votes with a gracious smile.
Moreover, Ruth Davidson represents the future face of Scottish Conservatism. Too young to be tainted by Thatcher, she might finally make the break with the past and allow the Tories to turn their fortunes around. Or at least that’s the thinking. Whether or not she will manage it remains to be seen – bigger political Tory beasts than her have tried and failed.
If she becomes leader – and she will, or I’ll eat someone’s hat – the Scottish Conservatives will have the youngest party leader, be the only party in Scotland not only to have a woman at the helm but to do it twice and moreover, elect a lesbian to the position. There are so many ironies in this I don’t know where to start. Progressive Torydom. Even in the Shires. Who knew?
For these and many more reasons, hers will be a remarkable election. She’s only been an MSP for a few months. Her rise may have been stratospheric, but she has undoubted qualities. Articulate and media savvy, she will inject something different into our political discourse. Cybernats will no doubt scoff at her prospects against the First Minister every week but I wouldn’t write her off. Going toe to toe with him is bound to end in disaster, but as Annabel has shown many times in recent years, there are other ways to get attention, get your point across and importantly, get under Alex Salmond’s skin.
Ruth Davidson is probably more centred politically than many on the right would like. That will make for an interesting conversation. While the rest of Europe lurches rightwards, including our ain dear UK Parliament, Scotland will have proven definitively that it is on a quite different political course. Her election will undoubtedly make it easier for the Scottish Tories to establish clear blue water from their UK counterparts – and hopefully detoxify their brand from the government’s activities that are not finding favour with Scots voters – but we await clues to see how this might pan out in policy terms.
But the most urgent task at hand is the implementation of the Sanderson review. The party needs overhaul at every level and in every sphere, to bring it out of the 1970s and into the 21st Century. Only when it has achieved this, can it seriously begin to think about political renewal. No doubt Ruth Davidson supports the review’s recommendations but does she have the mettle to push them through?
Such activity requires an attention to detail and a knowledge of what to do and when – qualities that John Swinney demonstrated in abundance during his ill-fated SNP leadership, during which he managed to push through a centralised membership scheme and also one member, one vote in all internal elections. This was no accident: his longterm membership and service in key party roles, particularly as National Secretary, served as a useful apprenticeship to achieving such fundamental structural changes. Does Ruth Davidson have the same organisational skills to bring to the fore?
The Scottish Conservatives have no doubt spent their summer chattering amongst themselves and one hopes garnering an inkling on what the three likely candidates think about stuff. And while these are the only votes that count for now, Ruth Davidson might like to share some of her thoughts on stuff with the rest of us. It would be bizarre indeed to greet a new Tory leader without knowing her views on well, anything.
And while the prospect of such a vibrant, youthful unknown leading one of Scotland’s main parties provides a frisson of excitement, I wonder if Ruth Davidson might just be peaking too soon? The Tories are in transition and such leadership stipends rarely last long enough to reap gains from any reforms enacted or attempted. Ask the afore-mentioned John Swinney. And Wendy Alexander.
Which makes John Lamont’s decision to sit out this round of musical chairs, and instead, throw his hat (and constituency votes) behind the most likely contender to defeat his shot at the next leadership election seem very shrewd indeed.