Earlier this year, at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, the Conservative and Unionist Party lost a quarter of their seats, dropping from 20 to 15, which, in the face of a Nationalist majority government, was nothing short of a disaster. Westminster has only one Conservative constituency north of the border, in spite of their being a Conservative-led coalition in power. Evidently, the relationship between the Scottish Conservatives and the electorate is a troubled one. In spite of this resounding defeat, the party gained one newly elected member: Ruth Davidson. Despite having been an MSP for such a short space of time, she has announced her intention to stand for party leader.
Davidson is no novice to politics; before being elected to her Glasgow constituency, she spent a year as the chief of Annabel Goldie’s office, giving her a bird’s eye view of the party. Before that, she spent a decade working in the field of journalism and media, which explains the extent of her positive reception from the press. The youngest of the four candidates, at 32 years of age, Davidson offers to provide the party with a fresh new face, which bolsters her claims that she will “deliver a more modern message to a wider Scotland.” There is also the fact that she, the potential leader of the Scottish branch of the party that brought us Section 28, is openly gay; Davidson’s success would at least prove to critics of the Scottish Conservatives that the party is capable of evolving.
However, when I interviewed Ruth Davidson, she made no mention of her sexuality. Davidson is not going to play the gay card. Instead, she spoke briskly of the “changes that [the Conservatives] need to be made in order to guarantee success in the future.” When asked about what it is that she believes gives her an edge over more experienced candidates, Davidson said that she possesses “the vision, the energy and the drive to make the changes necessary,” and she was not shy about describing the ways in which the shortcomings of the Conservatives should, in her view, be rectified. “I think that I offer a generational change to the Conservative and Unionist Party, I think that I can help bring in new and different members to our party and I think that I have the vision, the energy and the drive to make the changes that our party needs to make to guarantee success in the future.”
Her response to my questions concerning the future of a Scottish Conservative Party led by Ruth Davidson had a similar zeal to it. “What I want to see is a party that really resonates with a wider Scotland; a party that people look to and say ‘Yes, that’s the sort of party that a) I want to join and be a part of and b) that’s going to work hard for me in government. It’s a party that understands what I need from a government and can help me and help Scotland be a better place in the future.”
As Davidson spoke so candidly about the modernisation of the Scottish Conservatives, it seemed prudent to enquire about her opinion of and her intentions towards the branch of the party that embodies its potential. Davidson said that “the party, perhaps, hasn’t valued Conservative Future as much as it should in the past. I know, certainly, that in my own area of Glasgow, I wouldn’t have been elected if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of a lot of our Conservative Future members. I like the idea that was in the Sanderson Report to have a fully paid up sabbatical CF member to help liaise between the centre and CF and also to have them sitting at the top table, where the decisions are being made in the party, and that is one of the changes I will be hoping to implement as soon as I possibly can when I become leader.”
Davidson’s answer was most confident, and when the more serious issue of the strain the SNP are placing upon the union arose, her assurance did not waver. “I want us to put forward a positive message for the union. I think that we walk taller, shout louder and stand stronger for being a country of Scotland within the United Kingdom. I’m proud of being British, and I won’t let Alex Salmond take that part of me that’s British away and say that I don’t get to call myself that anymore. I will join with any member from any political party to go from door to door to door in order to lead a positive argument for our future. I will do everything that I can to make sure we stay part of the union.” Davidson has her battle plan prepared. How successful it will be remains to be seen.