Writing a post like this is liable to inflame some of my fellow Liberal Democrats and other friends who simply dislike Tories, but the results of Thursday’s elections to the Scottish Parliament deserve comment, not least because of the extraordinary revival of the Scottish Conservatives under their leader Ruth Davidson.
I am proud and fortunate to count Ruth as a personal friend and I have followed her political career over the last six years with considerable interest. Becoming the official opposition and securing 31 seats at Holyrood for a party which was once thought of as almost extinct north of the border is nothing short of miraculous. Ruth has achieved this and has done so by being a different sort of politician, offering a different sort of politics.
Having joined as a teenager in the 1980s because I thought they were the party of opportunity and choice, I left the Conservatives in 2003 because I could no longer tolerate the knee-jerk authoritarianism of Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard. Even with David Cameron’s softening of some of the party’s social policies, for example his support for equal marriage, I still find their whole approach deeply uncomfortable: an odd mix of patrician language covering ‘boot-strap’ right wing policies that adversely effect those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In Scotland, Ruth has succeeded by being different kind of Tory. She has, for example, publicly disagreed with the Prime Minister on removing tax credits, and questioned the way disability benefits were targeted in the Budget. She also embodies a different type of politician. She’s young, dynamic, and openly gay. She didn’t come from the traditional Tory pathway of private education and jobs as a party researcher, but rather has working class roots, a comprehensive education, and a career as a journalist, as well as being an Army reservist and kickboxer!
Ruth is instinctively liberal in her outlook and open and generous in her personality. Her warmth and charm have won over Scots who, whilst Unionist in inclination, never thought of themselves as Conservatives. Some other Scottish politicians questioned why Ruth banged the constitutional drum so hard in this election, but she has been proved to be right whilst they have been left behind. At the same time she has set out her vision for Scotland, which has some of the hallmarks of more classic Conservatism, but has done so in a way that seems to put people first. Importantly, she offered a promise of effective opposition to Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government.
Politicians and parties of whatever political ideology have much to learn from Ruth Davidson. Be it her kinder approach to policy making, her open style of talking to people, or just her keen sense of humour, Ruth shows what a modern day politician can be. I wish her well in her new role as Scotland’s Leader of the Opposition and in whatever roles she takes on in the future.
Edward Lord OBE joined the Conservative Party in 1986 aged 14. He served on its National Executive and as a national officer of its youth wing in the early 1990s. Edward resigned from the Conservatives in 2003, joining the Liberal Democrats for whom he was Deputy Party Treasurer under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, and is now a member of the party’s national finance committee.