Davidson endorses Javid…
Undoubtedly the biggest item of the week, from the perspective of this temporarily leadership-focused column, was Ruth Davidson’s decision to endorse Sajid Javid’s bid to succeed Theresa May.
In an interview for the BBC, she explains that she thinks he has the most credible and deliverable strategy for Brexit whilst highlighting why the Scottish Tories might be wary of competitors such as Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom.
Whilst this might strike some as a surprising choice, since Davidson has established herself as firmly on the left of the UK-wide party and there are certainly options less dry than abolish-the-top-rate-of-income-tax Javid, it fits with her position in the last leadership contest. In 2016 she backed Stephen Crabb, with whom she had forged a sort of liberal-unionist alliance, and (although it is hard to credit now) in that race Javid was Crabb’s ‘running mate’.
Javid also fits with Davidson’s style of rejuvenating Conservatism by tearing up the playbook. In her case it meant a) visibly embodying a new generation of Toryism and b) abandoning the “sackcloth and ashes” apologetics for being Conservatives. As potentially the first BME Prime Minister Javid certainly offers a visible refresh, and Stephen Bush has written an excellent piece in the New Statesman about how the Home Secretary is also ditching the script for how ethnic minority Tories talk about race.
Not coincidentally, Davidson had a piece in the Times Red Box this week on the need for ‘new thinking’ to turn the Party’s fortunes around.
…as Stewart picks up more fans (in Holyrood)…
Although Davidson has warm words for him, Rory Stewart will surely be sorely missing her endorsement. But he isn’t without his fans amongst the Scottish Conservatives.
Last week I noted that ‘quasi-federalist’ Murdo Fraser had come out for him, and this week he was joined by Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Tories’ constitution spokesman, and at least one other MSP. This will likely do little to ease the concerns of those worried about Stewart’s concede-to-the-devocrats approach to unionism, which we covered last week, as Tomkins was the one sent out to bat for the Scottish Tories’ screeching u-turn on special status for Ulster.
Despite this show of support from the MSPs, however, I have not yet seen a single Scottish MP endorse Stewart, despite his wholehearted endorsement of their joint letter to the Times setting out a list of demands entitled ‘Our next leader must spend to save the Union’.
…and Johnson too (in Westminster)
Even Boris Johnson, who was within recent memory the target of a concerted campaign by the Scottish Conservatives to block his path to Downing Street, has managed to get two, with both Colin Clark and Ross Thomson declaring for him this week.
The former mayor also picked up some more pan-UK support in the form of Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, who penned a piece for the Times in which he argued that, with the Union more in urgent need to defence than ever, Johnson was “the person best equipped to drive a bold, ambitious plan that will unite party and country and deliver for our nation”.
Meanwhile Davidson has urged Johnson to “do things differently” if he becomes Prime Minister, compared to his spell as Foreign Secretary, and his team have been engaged in what the FT calls “intense talks” with the Democratic Unionists about how to repair the two parties’ working agreement in the Commons.
Hunt gets tough on devocrats
A nice side-effect of the eminent position enjoyed by the Union in this leadership contest is that every candidate has to pay mind to it, and this week we saw the Foreign Secretary burnish his credentials by taking a tough attitude on attempts by devocrats to exceed their briefs and woo Europe.
Hunt withheld British diplomatic support for a mission by Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, in which she tried to butter up Brussels figures and set out her case for another vote on breaking up the UK. He also refused an official car to Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, for his own Brussels visit unless he stuck to the Government’s line on Brexit.
Whilst this is obviously baby steps, it is a welcome sign that Westminster is starting to realise that it can and should assert its prerogatives within the constitutional settlement. The devocracies in Cardiff and Edinburgh spit tacks whenever London is viewed to be impinging on devolved matters – it’s only right that London take the same approach to reserved issues. We should not be subsidising separate foreign policies for Wales and Scotland.
Leadsom rows back on referendum gaffe
But the prominence of the issue is a sword that cuts both ways, as Andrea Leadsom discovered this week when she appeared to suggest that she might grant Sturgeon the power to hold another plebiscite on Scottish independence.
Although she said that she herself would fight hard against another vote, the former Leader of the House said she wouldn’t rule one out entirely as it would be ‘disrespectful’. This provoked a backlash not only from Tory unionists but also from Ian Murray, Labour’s MP for Edinburgh South, who got to claim that her comments show “that the Tories can’t be trusted to protect Scotland’s place in the Union.”