Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters, and a former Scottish Conservative Head of Communications.
The Conservative Party is, this morning, in search of answers after what is, surely, the most catastrophic campaign in living memory. In an election which was called specifically and pointedly for the purpose of increasing the party’s majority in order to create a bigger Brexit buffer, it has lost the buffer it had; thrown the Commons into chaos; placed a large question mark over what form Brexit will take and – frankly – whether it will actually be delivered at all.
This party in search of answers will, after the surely inevitable resignation of Theresa May, also be in search of a new leader. Again. The initial speculation has, inevitably, surrounded Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson, the respective Remainer and Brexiteer-in-chief.
Another name, though, has been doing the rounds already this morning – that of Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader. There is (presumably?) an acceptance that Davidson cannot be leader right now, given the small matter of her not being an MP but the “we must have her at Westminster” narrative has its skates on, wrapped in great excitement.
The is understandable. The Conservative Party needs a winner right now. And she is a winner. In 2011, she took over a party which was on life support, having narrowly won a leadership contest in which the platform of Murdo Fraser’s, her main opponent, was to abolish the party and form a new one disassociated from the ‘London Tories’.
Many thought it would end in yet more failure. I should know – I ran Fraser’s campaign and I saw no future for the party or the brand. I was wrong: a combination of the independence referendum and Labour’s weakness on the union was brilliantly exploited by Davidson, who used it as a trampoline to reach the point, five years after taking the helm, of doubling her number of MSPs and her share of the vote.
Now, a year on from that achievement, she has increased her MP cohort from one (it has been one or zero for 20 years) to 13, and removed the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, and Alex Salmond, its long-time figurehead and one of the most impactful UK politicians of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Why not, then, bring her to Westminster? She has, after all, ridden to the rescue of the Tories right across the UK, and given them enough seats to all-but-guarantee it will provide the inhabitant of 10 Downing Street.
I am afraid, though, that those who want to see this happen face disappointment. Davidson is going nowhere.
To understand why, one has to understand the mindset of the new generation of Scottish Conservatives, epitomised by Ruth herself. The fact that three of the serving MSPs last night won election to Westminster should not be taken as an indication that all Tories look at the Commons as their goal. Westminster is not a graduation from Holyrood. And Holyrood is not an apprenticeship.
In Scotland, we have the levers to control the bulk of the issues that affect the lives of people just like Davidson – working-class grafters who want a government which is on their side. Education, health, policing, transport, housing and now tax are all in the gift of Holyrood. These policy areas – particularly education – are the ones which fire up Davidson.
So, that’s one factor. Secondly, we must understand that Davidson’s upbringing and values, much like my own, do not necessarily lend themselves to some of the stylistic tendencies and policy assumptions of the Tories at UK level. She is a radical centrist, a real blue-collar Tory or, more accurately, a small-l liberal. Those people exist in the Tory ranks at Westminster, for sure, but there is precious little evidence that they hold sway or would have the clout to provide the party with its leader.
Thirdly, it is important to be aware that there is no reason to expect Davidson to be particularly well-disposed towards her Westminster colleagues at this time. Earlier this week, in the televised STV leaders’ debate, she stood at her podium while the other three leaders yelled ‘rape clause, rape clause, rape clause’ in her face.
This is not an unusual occurrence. Indeed, every single difficult moment Davidson has endured in this campaign, without exception, has had its origins in London. Rape clause, immigration, dementia tax – et al. It matters not whether the attacks on her are justified; all that matters is that she is being attacked day, after day, after day, on issues which are utterly beyond her control. Westminster has been an albatross around her neck during this campaign and it is in spite of the UK party, not because of it, that she recorded this result.
There are two other reasons why a southern move is not on the cards. Firstly, Davidson has settled in Edinburgh with her partner, Jen. As she said in a newspaper article last week, she left Glasgow to go to Edinburgh for love.
That is not to say Davidson is not eyeing up a move. She is. But here’s the problem for the Tories in England who want her in their team. The move she’s eyeing up is not to Downing Street. It is to Bute House, the residence of the First Minister of Scotland.