Ruth’s real legacy is keeping the SNP in check – the Tories must not forget about Scotland.
Unknown and full of beans, Ruth Davidson was elected Scottish leader in 2011 promising an end to the ‘pale and stale’ tories we grew to hate in Scotland. Pragmatist and optimistic about the party, she made it her mission to present a fresh, younger image and do away with the dinosaurs that ensured the party never saw power at Holyrood and Westminster.
For the first two years, sadly, nothing much changed. The party was still seen as toxic, rarely polled higher than 15% and although Ruth was personally liked, the party still carried heavy baggage from the Thatcher era. With Conservatives in England unpopular as ever, Ruth battled every day to defend her party’s policies. From benefit changes, to the EU referendum, she fought off a tirade of abuse from all sides, notably the SNP and party followers on twitter – hell-bent on making her life a misery.
She fought and won. Following the independence referendum she took advantage of a weak and divided Labour party, mopping up their voters and promising to provide a genuine opposition to the SNP who were largely unopposed for years at Holyrood. Nicola Sturgeon was genuinely rattled by Ruth’s popularity, angered that she led the Tories to election success and robbed her of her majority in 2016. Ruth doubled her MSPs from 15 to 31 and came down heavy on Sturgeon’s independence delusions. But then Brexit happened.
Ruth remained calm when the UK was in political crisis, and slapped Sturgeon down after she called for another independence referendum shortly afterwards. A calm First Officer on a rocking ship, she and David Mundell, the former Scottish Secretary, worked hard together to keep the tories fortune alive north of the border. The success continued for her, though, when she increased her councillors in the 2017 local elections by a huge margin – and once again became the talking point of the day. Sturgeon – rattled and bitter – resented Ruth’s success as her own party fortunes declined.
Her party lost half its seats in the 2017 general election whilst Ruth took swathes of seats off the SNP – notably in the SNP’s former strongholds in the north east of Scotland. The political map turned blue once more and Sturgeon – humiliated – rode back on her independence plans.
If anything Ruth’s legacy will be keeping the SNP in check for the last decade; she held the true power at Holyrood as although in opposition, she had the final say on Scottish matters with her place at David Cameron and Theresa May’s side. Boris’s appointment and the sacking of David Mundell was literally the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although Ruth would always put party first, her trust in Boris and the current government broke apart the minute he stoked up no deal fears. The birth of her baby son and the pressures of motherhood have taken their toll in a political climate not seen in Britain since World War 2. Of course, Ruth will always be seen as the woman who revived the Scottish Conservatives, the party no longer a twitching corpse.
The hope we have – at Blue Beyond and the party as a whole – is the Tories continue to grow. We continue to oppose the SNPs reckless plan for ‘independence’ that would see our living standards fall, fiscal transfer destroyed and jobs diminish. Whoever that may be, they have to roll their sleeves up and get on with the job. Or we’ll pay the price at the next election.
Exec Views is a series of opinion pieces written by Blue Beyond exec. Matt is regional co-ordinator for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He lives in Skye, Scotland.