June 15, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
Theresa May would probably not be Prime Minister now if it wasn’t for Ruth Davidson. Jeremy Corbyn might have had the seats to put together to create an informal arrangement to put him in Downing Street if it wasn’t for Ruth Davidson. Ruth Davidson has achieved something considered impossible only two years ago. Could she be a future Prime Minister?
Let’s consider just what Davidson has achieved. After the 1997 election there were no Conservative MPs in Scotland. After the 2015 election there was one, David Mundell, which means he automatically got to be Scottish Secretary, regardless of whether he would be any good at it. There were more Giant Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs. Not any more. She won 13 seats in a country that had become a one-party state.
Why am I saying ‘she’ won? Surely it was the Conservatives who won those seats? Nope. The Scottish Conservative Party are not separate from the party in London, but they are allowed to vary some policies – which they did with the keeping of the universality of the Winter Fuel Allowance (vital in the much colder and darker Scotland). More importantly, Davidson made it clear that the only way to fight off a second Scottish Independence Referendum was to vote Conservative, as they were the main Unionist party.
Davidson tapped into the suspicion that Scottish voters in this General Election decided that they were getting fed up of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s constant focus on Scottish independence, feeling it was starting to get ahead of what was actually what Scotland needed. It is still amazing that those voters were persuaded the answer was to return a Conservative MP. The reason for that is Davidson herself.
Recent polls on leaders in Scotland have seen Davidson go above Nicola Sturgeon, something thought impossible for anybody in recent years. The reason for this is partly because Scottish people are more small ‘c’ conservative than many people think in terms of their social values. It is also because Davidson has shown time and time again that she cares about Scotland, and combined that with a genuine sense of compassionate and liberal conservatism that gained her the trust of voters.
This has meant that her reaction to the Conservative tie-up with the DUP has been widely publicised, tweeting a link to a speech on gay marriage. Davidson gives a sense that she will fight any attempt by a Conservative government that wants to cling onto government to set the advances in social liberalism backwards.
There is no Conservative like her. This is why pressure is starting to grow to find a way to put Davidson in a position to run for Conservative Party leader, and possibly PM. This is difficult, because she is not an MP in Westminster. She chose to remain as an MSP at the Holyrood Scottish Assembly. This is partly because she believes that Sturgeon needs to have proper opposition in that Assembly, but also because if she left that Assembly it would perhaps be too easy to mark her as putting Scotland second. I wonder if people are now looking for a way around that. If, as might be the case, a second independence referendum is off the table, Davidson being in Westminster can be presented as protecting Scotland’s interests in a similar manner.
The Conservative party need to have a proper think about where they want to go from here. Ruth Davidson is modern, urbane and liberal, but believes also in the power of the free markets as opposed to growing state power. She has threatened that the 13 Scottish Tory MPs will vote against any sense of Hard Brexit, although I wonder how many of them may be ‘bought’ off by Theresa May by being offered ministerial posts. She holds considerable power, although it would be even greater if she herself had a seat at Westminster.