Ruth Davidson's hubris – Part 2

Ruth Davidson's hubris – Part 2

by Frankie Hutcheson
article from Wednesday 30, October, 2019

WHAT HAS Ruth Davidson’s announcement that she’s giving up her new job as a part-time lobbyist got to do with the announcement of a general election on December 12? Everything and nothing – and none of it in a good way.

First off, there could hardly have been a better day than yesterday to bury bad news, when after months of foreplay Parliament gave itself up to a final headlong rush into release. 

The announcement came in a loquacious press release from the Scottish Tory press office, as if she were still leader. Davidson’s bullish tone was spectacularly ill-judged as she sought to blame the furore around the job with Tulchan Communications on her political opponents’ mistaken assumption “that working to improve businesses’ understanding of the cares and concerns of people is somehow incompatible with my role as an MSP“. The role, she said with no hint of irony, was “an opportunity to help businesses improve their offerings to staff, raise standards in the supply chain, increase diversity and embrace environmental responsibilities“.

She heaped praise on Tulchan Communications, but the fact remains this debacle has been a hit for them as much as for Davidson. Alistair Campbell’s famous dictum that when spin-doctors become the story they need to bow out was borne out even before Davidson had finished bowing in

The hubris, though, is not just Davidson’s or Tulchan’s, but the Scottish Conservatives' tout court. Her departure revealed a massive vacuum. It was made visible in a general election letter that went out to voters at the weekend. The letter carries a mugshot and is headed as coming from “Rt Hon Ruth Davidson MSP”. Like countless similar publications when she was leader, it pushes the idea that Davidson is the only reliable bulwark against the SNP’s quest for another independence referendum.

Two things stand out by their absence. One is in the white space at the top of the letter which hithertoo proclaimed Davidson as leader. The second is that there is no mention, not the merest whiff, of the actual Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw. It’s as if Davidson was still leader, and of course that’s what this shoddy, desperate communication is riding on: many of its recipients will still be thinking of her as such. 

On doorsteps, activists were encouraged to refer to themselves as “Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives”, and a key canvas question until the day of her resignation as leader was who do you prefer, Ruth Davidson or Nicola Sturgeon?  

The problem which the general election letter exemplifies, and which the Tulchan episode illustrates, is that the Scottish Conservatives were, and are, Ruth Davidson. They have nothing else with which to gain traction with voters - the NotoIndyref2 message hung round Davidson’s neck, no one else’s. The abject scale of the failure to flesh out a positive policy agenda, bring on other big, distinctive voices in the party or do some succession planning is only now becoming clear. 

Not just Davidson herself, but the Scottish Conservative Party seems wholly unable to imagine an identity, or offer to voters, without Davidson. 

More and more, it seems that Davidson’s achievement as leader amounted to little more than a topping of political vanilla. 

This is the party’s hubris, and as the topping melts away, it is painful to behold. Last night a letter went out from the Scottish Conservative Director about selecting candidates for the general election. Unbelievably, none had been selected despite the total predictability of the general election: the other parties have been selecting and publicising their candidates like billy-o for months now. 

The same process is now taking place as did for Theresa May’s snap election where candidates were hurriedly picked by association chairmen together with central office. The associations are dysfunctional, if not defunct, and the opportunity to build the broader grassroots base which the Scottish party is in such dire need of has been missed yet again. It’s a mechanism which ensures that instead of fresh or distinctive talents or ideas, the same old tired party apparatchiks and prejudices will dominate. 

Without Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservatives can only fall back on being an adjunct to the UK Conservative Party, if not a branch office. Doubtless Boris’ People versus Parliament challenge will attract some Scottish Brexit voters, but Scottish Tories will not pull in those voters – and they are many – who want a distinctly Scottish alternative to the SNP.

 

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