May 7, 2016 14 Comments
In the 1997 General Election, the UK Conservative Party lost all its Scottish seats, and with the creation of devolved parliament in Edinburgh (where I now live), it seemed that north of the border, the Conservatives were a dead ‘brand’. As recently as 2011 they had only 17 seats in the Scottish Parliament, and with the Scottish nationalists winning an unprecedented second term with a majority of seats (something hard to get under the electoral system here), it seemed that the country was headed toward a one party state and possible independence. Then something happened – or rather someone happened – a 5 foot 3 bundle of energy called Ruth Davidson became leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. She seemed, to put it mildly, an unlikely leader for the Scottish Unionists.
She comes from a working-class background, got to University, went into the media and then, so it seemed, committed career suicide by taking up a career as a Tory politician in the most viscerally anti-Tory part of the UK. Before she became leader there was some doubt as to how Tory voters – and others – would react to the fact that she was both openly gay and a practicing Christian? The short answer was delivered yesterday when the elections saw her win a seat in Edinburgh (I voted for her) and her party become the second largest in the Scottish Parliament. So, what went right?
We often say here that personality matters. Well, Ruth Davidson is a former territorial army officer, she broke her back in her twenties and had to learn to walk again – she’s not really going to be phased by political insults. She’s a bundle of energy, she’s so obviously sincere in her support for the Union that she’s been able to win support from those who are not natural Tory voters but want to save the Union and do not trust the Labour Party (which did dismally here) to do so. Labour, in an attempt to win some nationalist votes, at least sent signals it might be willing to do deals on the subject. No doubt there were those offering the save advice to Ms Davidson, but she rejected that line and went with what she believed.
There’s a lesson here for the Conservatives south of the border. Widely seen as dominated by upper-class public school boys who have no idea how the rest of us live, their candidate for the London Mayoralty, the multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith, was beaten into a cocked hat by the Muslim son of a Pakistani bus driver, Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP who sounded as though he actually lived in London in the way most ordinary people do. Boris Johnson, another public schoolboy, had the charisma to be able to appeal across the political divide, and who knows, may become Prime Minister when Cameron stands down.
But up here, the dynamism of Ruth Davidson offers another option – a down to earth figure who can appeal to people across the political spectrum and whose obvious sincerity and connectedness to reality makes her a popular figure. Boris might hope she stays here – we certainly do.