And then there is Ruth Davidson. Along with most of the commentariat, I can't help but have a soft spot for her. An openly gay straight-talking woman from a normal background, a politician with no airs and bullshit, a capacity to poke fun at herself, and comes across everywhere and always as unflappingly pleasant. Apart from her party affiliation, what is there not to like? So what is her secret? How is it that everyone is totally dippy when it comes to Ruth?
As an individual, Ruth seems perfectly sound. She stands out because she didn't go to politics stage school. She lacks the affectation and soundbite regurgitation of those in the game for too long, or never had a proper job before achieving office. How crap must politics be when "appearing normal" is a vote winner? Let's not be naive about this. Ruth may well be as she presents herself, but her image has gone through the wringer. It's sculpted, styled, trained, and got focus grouped to death. Ruth Davidson as a political personage is as artificial as Boris Johnson's oh-so-funny buffoonery and Dave's stage-hogging statesmanship. She's everyone's mate, the Tory whose gimmick is not looking, sounding, or behaving like a Tory.
Think on this a moment. What does Ruth Davidson stand for? Judging by the media coverage she's very pro-the union. 18 months ago, wherever there was a Better Together media opportunity, she wasn't sniffy about which Labour politician she took to the stage with. The memory abides of Gordon Brown making his bravura speech in the dying days of the referendum campaign, and there was Ruth, pictured clapping away with enthusiasm. We also know she's pro-EU, and has declared to be looking forward to working with the SNP to ensure Britain remains this June. And what else? Well, not a lot. If you must, scope out the Conservatives' Scottish Manifesto. Reading through it, there's very little you could disagree with. Seriously. Leaving aside the unionist stuff, most of it could have appeared in a SNP or Labour manifesto. It warns against centralisation, calls for more NHS funding, a more flexible social security system (which could be code for all kinds of things), addressing problems in the education system. This is not Toryism red in tooth and claw. Nor, actually, cuddly conservatism. It is an uncontroversial managerial politics with no sniff of right wingery at all.
Has this happened by accident? Absolutely not. Just as Ruth is a clean figure with no baggage at all, the Tories don't want to toxify their best bet with their own tarnished brand. So the manifesto matches her to a tee. No hard edges, no policies invoking unpleasant memories. It's straight-talking, oppositional, and above all, modest. It's a master class in political positioning. Ruth invites voters to give the blues a punt because they stand no chance of winning, but will manage a better job than Our Kez and Scottish Labour at holding the SNP to account. Opposing the SNP over the next four years isn't going to see the Tories at the eye of many political storms, there isn't much chance of them outraging public opinion. And then, come 2020 Ruth will make the same proposition again, slowly but surely building up a base for her new, reasonable Toryism until such a time it can challenge the SNP for supremacy. It's a long game, and a very smart game she's playing. Between now and then, she'll be detoxifying the Tories at every available opportunity. Why else do you think Ruth's keen to help Nicola Sturgeon make the case for Remain?
There are a few problems Ruth faces. So far she has disassociated the Scottish Tories from what's happening with the Tories at Westminster. Her very personality acts as a marker - she's a world apart from Dave and his gang of entitled dolts. But there will come times when she feels the heat for what's going on elsewhere. The devolution of further powers to Holyrood shield her to an extent, but what happens at Westminster does overdetermine the Scottish party system. Second, apart from unionism and fairly inconsequential matters like sentencing, Ruth's position absolutely depends on not taking a position, and especially one that smacks of traditional Toryism. The strategy that got the Tories second party status is quite brittle and liable to fall apart if they are forced to oppose popular policies. And there is the Scottish party itself. Of the few that are left, there's bound to be unreconstructed Tories hiding in the shadows ready with a verbal bomb or two primed to remind everyone that the modern Tory party is still the Tory party.
Ruth Davidson then. A likeable small p politician you could go for a coffee with or take down the pub quiz. But also a canny operator at the helm of the labour movement's implacable enemy in Scotland. Never forget that.