Thursday 29 August 2019

The Politics of Ruth Davidson's Resignation

The departure of Ruth Davidson from the lofty heights of the Scottish Tories would normally make big news, but thanks to a certain announcement and attendant preoccupations, her eminence was relegated to the literal margins of the nation's news sites. Don't worry Ruth fans, it won't be the last we see of her.

Davidson's resignation letter didn't say much of note, which makes it interesting. As a new mum wanting more time with her son and family, who can blame her from bailing out of front line politics while matters are this fraught and chaotic? Well, ever keen to find a subtext a line of interpretation on pundit Twitter has zeroed in on her concluding remarks. She writes "Be assured I will continue to support the party, the Prime Minister and Scotland's place in the United Kingdom from the backbenches and beyond." A coded warning to Johnson to not jeopardise the union for Brexit? I smell over-interpretation. If Davidson wanted to troll the Prime Minister, she would troll him. There's no need for hack CSI forensics on every sentence and word for tone and syllable, as if pregnant with the DNA of political intent. Quite purposely, her resignation said nothing. Davidson has spent her career avoiding the pointy bits of politics, and she carries on doing so as the curtain falls on its first act. .

It has been variously observed that Ruth Davidson's greatest achievement was getting noticed by the SW1 lobby pack. That's not strictly speaking true. Her achievements in leading the Tories back from utter irrelevance in Scotland are real enough. Unlike her hapless and clueless predecessors, she is a proven operator, a fair effort at distilling Cameroon conservatism as if Dave meant it. Gay as a matter of fact, unfussy, no bullshit, normal background and, to some, a centrist, non-polarising charismatic appeal, these were all traits mobilised for the detoxification of the Scottish Tories. She had no baggage (on the surface), and most importantly she has no real politics. Apart from unionism and EU remainism, what was, what is distinctly Davidson? On the stump and in the studio, her vacuity meant she could pose as a representative for any of the Westminster parties. There's nothing that would rule her out from sitting on the LibDem benches (reportedly, while Chuka and co. were cooking up their dog's breakfast, they approached Davidson to lead it). And, I'm sorry to say, there are sitting Labour MPs more objectionable than her. She is pretty indistinguishable from most right wing Labourites, especially the weekend army cosplayers who enjoy roughing it on "manoeuvres".

And so she proved a boon to the Tories, taking them from also rans to the official opposition at Holyrood. By subsuming the party to her chummy, cheery image the Tories thought they had hit upon a master key for elsewhere. For instance, Davidson piloted the Britain-wide roll out of Theresa May's Tories during the 2016 Holyrood elections. Following the Davidson model, the Conservative Party branding vanished and it was all about Theresa May and her team. We know how that turned out. But in Scotland, Davidson is still front and centre. Even in the Scottish parliamentary by-election taking place in Shetland today, the Tories' Brydon Goodlad is introduced on their literature as Ruth Davidson's candidate. They've got a real hole to fill, then. The rest of the Tories in Holyrood are a mix of dyed in wool reactionaries, landed money, and on-message careerists - Davidson appeared so personable because the rest of them lack basic human traits. It's going to be difficult to find someone with the cut through appeal, and that in itself presents Boris Johnson with a problem. Tempted by an election he may be, without Davidson the chances of the Tories holding onto anything like their 13 Scottish seats is remote to non-existent.

What now for Davidson? Her long-stated ambition of becoming First Minister was always fluff for the profile writers. But what isn't is the possibility of a return to front line politics. The long-term future of the Tories depends on building beyond their declining constituency, and she is just the sort of established and (relatively) popular figure who could head up a more liberal, more centre facing Tory party that has broken with its toxic past. By bowing out at this crucial moment she's avoiding the taint Johnson and friends are busily covering themselves with, effectively meaning she's politically clean when the sharp contradictions of Brexit have receded into the past and the Tories must reach beyond their unhinged core. As for the letter, it's smart politics. Because she was diplomatically silent about the controversies of the day she'll have a certain unity figure cache to draw upon in any future leadership contest.

That is assuming there's going to be a Tory party left for her to lead. Johnson's gamble could easily go awry. With the Financial Times and Ken Clarke now stating a Corbyn caretaker government is a lesser evil, more Tories announcing their impending retirement from the Commons planning to move against no deal, the Johnson/Cummings closing down of the parliamentary timetable is focusing minds around the legislative means to thwart Johnson's scheme, upto and including no confidence following last week's nonsense. If they manage to impose their will on Number 10 and Brexit doesn't happen by 31st October, the Tories are stuffed. And if they fail and Johnson does pull it off, it's going to take more than a newly returned Ruth Davidson five, six years down the line to dispel the visceral contempt many millions will still feel toward them.

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Dipper said...

quite a lot of women feeling let down.

"Women are just as capable as men, a woman's place is in the leader's office, women should be free to have careers just like men .... ooh a baby! I'm off!"

Anonymous said...

There is a big thing with Ruth Davidson is about her being a lesbian (the media focus on this all the time), to be honest the only thing about her that matters is she is a Tory, which means she is an appalling piece of human garbage.

So a cruel, uncaring, selfish, elitist and probably sociopathic lesbian.

Am I meant to be impressed?