In the Scottish edition of today’s Times (£), Ruth Davidson has intervened once again on the subject, newly sensitive in Tory circles, of Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Conservative leader, who as she reminds readers is a gay unionist Protestant engaged to a Catholic Irishwoman, argues that it is past time that same-sex marriage was legalised in the province.
With the Tories’ compact with the Democratic Unionists in the spotlight it’s significant that she is still sending shots across the bows of the Government’s new allies. But, once again, it would be a mistake to leap to the conclusion that Davidson is trying to be unhelpful to that working relationship.
Just as her previous interventions stressed the Government’s commitment not to backslide on LGBT rights on the mainland, so does this out reveal that she has received: “assurances from the prime minister that the Conservative Party will use our influence in Northern Ireland to press for marriage equality.”
This helps to put some more clear blue water between the Tories and the socially conservative attitudes of the DUP, whilst also burnishing Davidson’s personal credentials both as a unionist and a liberal champion of gay rights.
Gay marriage in particular is an issue which can most plainly be laid at the feet of Arlene Foster’s party, for its passage to date has only been blocked by their use of a ‘petition of concern’, a mechanism built into the Stormont system to prevent majoritarianism by allowing a minority of MLAs to block legislation.
Crucially, the DUP actually fell below the threshold needed to wield the Petition of Concern in March’s calamitous snap election. This means that if devolved government is restored (and that’s a big if) it is very likely to pass. If the DUP can be persuaded not to oppose it as a concession to the inevitable – supporting it would probably be a bridge too far – then Davidson’s positioning might allow her, and perhaps the Government, to get a bit of the credit.
Beyond that, this intervention – alongside others on things like Saudi Arabia – shows that whilst she may be focused on becoming First Minister (and won’t be riding south for a shot at Downing Street anytime soon), the Scottish Tory leader is embracing her position as one of the most prominent Conservatives in the whole United Kingdom.