She’s Back, and this Time it’s Personal

Armed with a whole new set of active verbs, a hot mic’d speech and a media adulation that others could only dream of, Ruth Davidson is back.

Davidson told a small gathering in Aberdeen that: “No more Scotland being a country that ‘might’ or ‘should’ or ‘could’ do things. I want to live in a country that ‘will’, that ‘shall’, that ‘can’ act, and can act right now.” It’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance for a party that has halted Scottish agency and democracy for hundreds of years and who still acts to undermine even devolution itself. The things we “should” or “could” do without Davidson’s party in office despite being rejected at the ballot box in Scotland are almost endless.

We will and we shall prove that to Ms Davidson very soon and this whole charade can be over.

Facing the worst Tory election results in England since 1995, with recent YouGov opinion polls showing her party dropping behind even Richard Leonard’s Labour Party in Scotland, and with Michael Gove donning a constitutional suicide vest — and — presumably — clutching Ruth to his British Power vision — Davidson strode onto the Aberdeen stage to deliver a speech replete with familiar vacuous slogans.

For someone trying to re-frame herself and her party as something positive, it’s remarkable that she would re-tread her slogan “We said no and we meant it.” Despite their jarring differences on sexuality and social policy (a clash that we know causes Davidson existential crisis), she is very similar to Arlene Foster in having carved out a political career by saying “No.”

In a world of one dimensional policy-free politics, Davidson is a powerful force. After eight years in post, if you stopped a hundred people in the streets I doubt a single one of them could name a policy she’s developed.

But who cares? In a country where contemplating the realities of human extinction is actually favourable to continuing discussing Brexit, Davidson may be on to something when she says to people will call a moratorium on any future referendums. Even though she doesn’t have the power to do this, it may have its charm to the weary voter.

This call for “unity” and “harmony” and to “heal division” is attractive, if entirely reactionary. The divisions Scotland and wider Britain face reflect deep social and class conflicts, regional inequality, constitutional dysfunctionalism and inter-generational crisis, and can’t be wished away because they’re ‘awkward’.

The media adulation Davidson receives is bizarre to many. For example Scotland on Sunday this morning engages in a twin fantasy, that she has mass appeal to ‘blue collar workers” and that she can become First Minister.

In the same paper Ewan McColm argues first that: “First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues to threaten a referendum that she has neither the power to call nor the political momentum to win” and then that what’s required for Davidson’s party is for it to adopt (stop giggling at the back) independence from the Tory party.

Resurrecting Murdo Fraser’s plan for the Scottish Conservatives is essential he argues because:

“Standing against the break-up of the UK remains a reactive position. If Davidson is ever to take control of the debate, she will have to tell us what she will do as well as what she won’t. The maintenance of the United Kingdom under a new federal arrangement might just spike the nationalists’ guns.”

Constitutional change to “shoot the nationalist fox” or “spike the nationalists’ guns” has long been the driving force of both Labour and Conservative unionists, to little effect — and “Federalism” is cherished like a secret antidote by the radical Centre and the politically homeless who inhabit Scotland’s commentariat like the Undead.

Martin Kettle mirrored the breathless coverage of Davidson’s return in the run-up to her Aberdeen speech. In an incredible counter-factual revelation, Kettle explains:

“Cameron had a succession plan that isn’t on the cards this time. He had intended, after winning the European referendum, to reshuffle his cabinet for the remainder of his premiership. One of his moves would have been to confer a peerage on the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, and make her defence secretary, sitting in the House of Lords. The aim was to help to position her to be Cameron’s chosen successor.

At some point between then and Cameron’s departure, the plan went, Davidson would “do a Douglas-Home” and move to the Commons — as Harold Macmillan’s successor, the Earl of Home, had done in 1963. Davidson would remain in the government, renounce her peerage, and be fast-tracked into a safe Commons seat. There would be a byelection, and she would then be in the Commons, in a box seat to win the leadership — the best bet to stop Johnson, and all with Cameron’s backing.”

It’s an extraordinary description that seems to be oblivious of how undemocratic it would be. Here’s a politician who would be maneuvered into office by unelected means and its described as if it’s a wonderful thing.

Kettle continues: “She is one of the few Tories with some cut-through to younger voters and non-Tories. She is more popular with millennials than her colleagues are; far more socially liberal than much of her party; pro-European in a party that has slewed increasingly heavily against it; just about the only Conservative with wide appeal in Scotland; and one of the most articulate defenders of the union in a thin field.”

His description is untested and largely untrue.

These sort of media fantasies can only possible in a land of pygmies, or if you haven’t actually seen Davidson operate outwith set-piece conference speeches and media stunts. Davidson is a giant in a Holyrood in which she competes for media attention with Willie Rennie and Richard Leonard. She is less politically toxic than Boris Johnson and smarter than Murdo Fraser. She is more socially liberal than Jacob Rees-Mogg and has a wider reach than Annabel Goldie. It’s a low bar.

Despite the relentless negativity and policy void, there are other issues which will prevent Davidson’s arrival in Bute House despite the media adulation.

The Arlene factor can’t be magiced away. Davidson may have been conveniently absent as the Tory Civil war raged and Britain was broken on the back of post-imperial fantasy, but that landscape is a reality and the DUP’s role in it — and their deeply reactionary policies on religious tolerance, gender and sexuality — can only be ignored by the most pliant of commentators. Despite Davidson’s plea to move beyond constitutional questions they just can’t be wished away. The Irish question and the Scottish question are intertwined. This is a situation created by English and British nationalists (take your pick) and exacerbated by her partys ignorance and incompetence.

Despite McColm’s suggestion that there is no political momentum for independence, the evidence, both in the polls and on the streets says otherwise. This is precisely why, with Theresa May a Dead Woman Walking, and far-worse candidates waiting in the wings, so many are trying desperately trying to resurrect Davdson’s career.

Originally published at https://bellacaledonia.org.uk on May 5, 2019.

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