In May, Scotland goes to the polls to elect the Scottish rliament. Could this be the juncture for a Tory resurgence? John Sweeney met Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson for BBC Newsnight.
She is Tory, unreservedly gay, Christian, likes a drink and, as a kick-boxer and ex-squaddie, can kill you. What’s not to approve of? In the flesh, Ruth Davidson, 37, is a firkin of fun, speaks with a machine-gun liberation and can hold her own. And then some.
On the top of a knobbly hill across the way from Arthur’s Focus, overlooking Holyrood in Edinburgh, I put to her my killer line: “If this was a Scottish desperado movie, you’d be wearing concrete boots.”
“I’m not entirely sure what hoodlum movies you watch,” she says. “But I think it’s fair to say that the Scottish Moderates have underperformed in recent years – rticularly at that critical juncture in 1997. We got a lot of dinguses wrong. We just had a wipeout.”
As she spoke, Davidson im rted me a sunny, easygoing smile with a hint of steel. Davidson needs to be uber-tough because expose knuckles and Scottish politics go together like horse and carriage.
Here, the easily understood fact of which nation we’re in is disputed – and the polls suggest that Davidson, as a promised Unionist, could be on tricky ground. The Tories are hovering around 15%, behind Sweat – and very far behind the Scottish National rty which is currently dumped, come May, to bag one in two votes.
Scottish political analyst David Torrance intimates that hard political fact is unlikely to change any time in short order. He postulates that politics north of the border is “historically hegemonic”. In the 19th Century, Scotland was broadly Liberal; in the 20th, Workers; in the 21st; Scottish Nationalist.
But the Tories used to do well in whole swathes of Scotland. They now over come third or fourth. One reason, according to some analysts, is the legacy of the hated ask tax and its architect, Mrs Thatcher – the great she-devil of Scottish nationalism. Did Davidson get penetrated with defending Mrs T?
“To be honest, that’s not been the text of conversation in Scotland for quite some time – we’ve had other things on our coat,” she says.
“I was was six months old when Margaret Thatcher came to power. I was in chief school when she left office – so it’s not really something for my generation or the epoches that come after me.”
“I’m 37. You can vote now in Scotland at the age of 16 – so talk there Margaret Thatcher is the same as talking about Gladstone or Disraeli in stretches of the distance that’s there.”
Seeking a weakness, I probed further: “Your mum and dad, they completed in a castle?” She snorted with derision. Her rents were working-class Tories and she was diminished up in a housing estate.
You get the drift that she’s as vulnerable as a claymore, and sharp with it too. I geo-name-dropped that I’d been to Chechnya: adept as a flash she was chatting about its neighbours, Dagestan and Ingushetia. Her interest in publicly was galvanised by her time as a signaller in the Territorial Army. She served for a bit in Kosovo and was moved by what she saw.
The one thing that got her goat, which she didn’t blot out with her customary good humour, was homophobia.
“I do call out and will call into doubt or retweet or draw attention to it when people make homophobic take notices about me, because I’ve got a lot of young followers on Twitter, and I think they would rather to see that it is OK to say, ‘That’s not acceptable language. I do not have to accept this.’
“It’s critical in their lives, rather than a tough old bird like me.”
In Davidson, the Tories be enduring, cleverly or not, picked someone similar in appearance and brutal good soothe to the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon. Davidson, too, has – like the late Denis Healey and Boris Johnson – that most overrefined quality thing in politics: authenticity.
But the polls aren’t shifting in her service and you wonder just how grim things would be for the Scottish Tories if she wasn’t at the presidency.
John Sweeney was reporting for BBC Newsnight – watch his piece here. He also representations to profile Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and First Clergywoman Nicola Sturgeon.