Well that’s me back home now. I had a lovely time with my other half although when I was away I picked up a nasty cough and sore throat from my husband’s infant niece. I fell down the stairs in my in-laws’ house and did my back in and hurt my elbow. And I managed to lose the SIM card for my mobile phone after removing it from my phone to replace it for the duration of my trip with a US pay as you go one. But no matter how crap I am currently feeling, it is as nothing compared to the ocean of Borisoid doo doo in which Ruth Davidson’s career is currently mired. I’d normally feel a modicum of sympathy for anyone facing such challenges, because my mammy brought me up to be a kind sowel, but … naaah.
Ruth Davidson was always a media construct, all smiles and photo ops riding on the back of a single policy – the refusal to countenance another independence referendum. There was never any realistic prospect of Ruth Davidson becoming the next First Minster despite the hype of her pals in the press. Ruth was only ever the latest darling of a Scottish media that’s always on the search for the next Saviour of the Union like a band of cultists expecting the Messiah. But Ruth has turned out to be a false prophet just like Kezia Dugdale and Jim Murphy and all the rest before them.
It’s easy to scoff at a politician who bases their entire appeal on a couple of cheeky photo ops and some snark on Twitter, but we live in an age of surface not substance. It was precisely Ruth’s lack of substance and her surface sheen of modernity that allowed her to appeal to people who might not otherwise have voted Conservative. Her image, young, working class, lesbian, was far removed from that of the huntin shootin and fishin landed toff Tory. She managed to position the Scottish Conservatives as the default party for that segment of the Scottish population which would never consider independence under any circumstances. She became the smiling modern face of a reactionary project.
However Ruth has been undone by her own party, who have in the shape of our new Colonial Secretary Alister Jack returned to landed toff huntin shootin and fishin form. The Conservatives’ pursuit of Brexit has opened up another fault line, a chasm into which Ruth’s electoral prospects have tumbled, most likely never to recover. Essentially Ruth Davidson was repeating the trick played by Tony Blair in the 1990s. He tacked to the centre and right because he knew that left wing voters could be taken for granted. Ruth Davidson made a pitch to the anti-independence centre because she knew that the right could be taken for granted. Brexit undid that. She now has to compete with Nigel Farage on the right. Meanwhile the centre in Scotland is overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, and so is immune to the dubious charms of a Scottish Conservative party which is defined by achieving the goal of the Brexit that Scotland has rejected. Scotland must now choose between two unions, either the UK or the EU. Thanks to the Tories keeping both is no longer an option. Losing on the centre, losing on the right, Ruth has nowhere to turn. Stuck in a guddle with David Mundell.
Ruth has attempted to shore up her position by supporting Brexit, contrary to her previous stance, but claims that she’ll resist a no deal Brexit. Unfortunately for her there is nothing that she can do in practical terms to resist a no deal Brexit. It’s a meaningless stance from a politician who cannot affect the outcome. The other morning, Tory MSP Adam Tomkins had a toe curling interview on BBC Radio Scotland with Gary Robertson during which he was unable to answer a simple question about what Ruth Davidson could do to prevent a no deal Brexit. Adam didn’t want to answer, because the only option that Ruth Davidson really has is to give Boris Johnson suuuuuch a look. That’ll show him.
The uncomfortable truth which both Adam and Ruth can’t avoid is that there’s nothing that the Scottish Tories can do to prevent a no deal Brexit. The 13 useless wonders who sit as Conservative MPs for Scottish seats were not disposed to listen to Ruth when she was Ruth Davidson the winner, Ruth is full of win, Ruth the darling of a gushing media, they’re certainly not going to obey her now that she is held in similar esteem by Boris Johnson as something unpleasant on the sole of his shoe. Boris Johnson openly humiliated Ruth and destroyed her authority when he sacked David Mundell against her advice. He then signalled his contempt for the distinctiveness of the Scottish party by appointing an MP for an English seat as “Minister for the Union” in second place at the Scotland Office.
Scottish Tory MPs won’t vote against a no deal Brexit because Ruth Davidson tells them to. Indeed, some of them will actively pursue it, and having spent the last election telling one and all that those MPs were representives of the Vote Ruth Davidson for More Ruth Davidson Party, Ruth Davidson will not be able to avoid the political fall out in Scotland. The other parties will hold her accountable for the voting records of Brextremist MPs like Ross Thomson and Stephen Kerr.
If there’s an early General Election because Boris Johnson is unable to get a no deal Brexit through the Commons that election will be fought on giving Johnson a mandate to pursue the Brexit of his choosing. Ruth Davidson will then be in the untenable position of opposing the key policy of her own party. She can hardly repeat the trick she managed in 2017 of acting as though the election in Scotland is purely about heading off another independence referendum. It will be a Brexit election and Ruth’s party will be advocating a position that Scotland has rejected, led by a Prime Minister that Scotland despises and who ignores Ruth’s advice. She will no longer be able to claim that a vote for her will produce any tangible increase in Scottish influence in the corridors of power in Westminster when she can’t even influence her own MPs. She will no longer be able to claim that a vote for her increases Scotland’s strength within the Union. A vote for the Scottish Conservatives will be an endorsement of Scotland’s second rate status and place of silence on the back seat. Her discomfort will be enjoyable to watch.
The options for the Scottish Tory leader are extremely limited. Even Murdo Fraser’s proposal for a separate Scottish Conservative party to contest Scottish elections wouldn’t solve the problem – and Ruth has already ruled it out. Under that plan Scottish Tory MPs at Westminster would still take the Conservative whip and would not be directly answerable to Ruth on Brexit. There’s nothing to prevent them ignoring what their putative leaderene says on Brexit exactly as they’ve ignored her to date. Besides, setting up an independent Scottish Conservative and Unionist party would only mean that Ruth would be left with the humiliating question of why she’s asserting independence for herself, but denying the Scottish people the right to even ask themselves the question. Mind you, humiliation has never stopped the Scottish Tories before. David Mundell based a whole career on it.
The Conservative party in Westminster has given Ruth Davidson an abject lesson in Scotland’s real place in this so-called awesome foursome. Told to sit down and shut up at the back of the Boris bus. Her choices are stark. She can either sit down, shut up, and accept it and watch as the Scottish Conservatives face electoral oblivion at the next election, in which event what little credibility she still retains will disappear even quicker than Ruth herself does when faced with a difficult question, or she can resign. Scotland needs someone who can wield influence in Scotland’s favour. Ruth Davidson can’t even influence the Conservative party.
Either way Ruth Davidson’s career as Saviour of the Union is well and truly over. The Scottish press is already preparing to worship at the feet of Jo Swinson who will this time, no really, honestly, cross my heart and swear to god, turn out to be the miracle worker of East Dunbartonshire. HalleUKia, praise the flawed.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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