Ruth Davidson is leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, and MSP for Edinburgh Central.
ConservativeHome readers, like party supporters more generally, will be voting on both sides of the referendum divide on Thursday. I will be making my own position clear once again this evening as a member of the Remain side in the BBC debate at 8pm. And looking back to when I first set out my case, back in September of last year, it is striking to me how little has changed.
I said then that the economic arguments in favour of remaining were overwhelming. In the months since, I don’t believe anyone can fairly claim that the Leave side has challenged this core fact, nor set out how a Leave vote on Thursday night will make Britain wealthier or more secure.
I don’t need to rehearse my arguments here – they will be plain to hear for everyone watching the debate, (rather than the football) in a few hours’ time.
But I do want to talk about what happens next.
For a year now, our political discourse has been dominated by the referendum – and for those of us who live in Scotland, this has come just as we were putting the last referendum behind us. Constitutional uncertainty is bad for out country. Our economic recovery remains fragile. We know far too many British families are yet to feel the recovery themselves. As Conservatives, we cannot be satisfied when we know so many of our fellow citizens continue to be denied the opportunities previous generations have taken for granted. We should not accept as inevitable a society which fails to provide equality of opportunity for all. This is a chance we must grasp. Not just because it is right, but because it is necessary, for both the country and for our party.
Scotland, perhaps, provides a cautionary lesson. The SNP emerged from last month’s election as the dominant force in Scottish politics. But it lost ground, when it expected to gain it, in May’s elections because its continued flirtation with a second referendum on independence put people off. All across Scotland, we see people are running out of patience with a party which continually puts the priorities of its own membership base before the needs of the country at large.
With Labour in a mess and looking less like a government-in-waiting than at any time in my lifetime, we as a party have a duty to provide the leadership and stewardship our nation needs.
That means coming together and working together. Allowing the bruises of this referendum (and referenda are always bruising) to heal and putting ego and score-settling aside for the greater good.
I know that there are many people in our party for whom long, deeply-held differences over Europe are not a new phenomenon. Plenty of our parliamentary party in the Commons still remember Maastricht and who said what to whom.
I don’t. I was in my second year of high school and the first year of my teens. My political consciousness as a Conservative wasn’t shaped by the ‘European Question’. Sometimes it’s hard in the heat of a frenzied campaign to see beyond the issue at hand, but we must remember that there is more out there. That doesn’t mean I don’t think this decision is important – it is, and it’s huge – but it does mean that, on Friday, we still have questions of economy and taxation and schools and hospitals and housing to deal with, too.
I know that I am not alone. There are many MPs and senior representatives of our party that see the need for a coming together after the votes are counted and the decision is made. Who, like me, recognise that our shared commitment to Conservative values and a strong economy offering opportunities for all is a better future for our country than anything Labour has to offer. Particularly from the 2010 and 2015 intake of parliament, there are people with a real commitment to ensuring the fractures and fissures of a European debate that festered after 1992 aren’t allowed to pollute our Party’s ambitions for the future.
I hope that a degree of leadership from those who want to bind us back together can be replicated at all levels in our party. That the mutual support and benefit we derive from working together in different parts of the country is enhanced, not diminished. The Conservative Party I know, the Conservative Party I love, does not wear its duty to this country or the service to its people lightly. To abrogate our responsibilities in government in order to continue private feuds after Thursday would be a self-indulgence that would diminish us.
The people will decide on Thursday. The Conservative party needs to come back together on Friday. The country comes first. It always comes first.