Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has come under fresh pressure as a poll of grassroots party members points to a complete collapse in support for her.
Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, has come under fresh pressure as a poll of grassroots party members points to a complete collapse in support for her.
Having been elected to replace Annabel Goldie last November, Davidson – who only became an MSP in May’s elections to Holyrood – has seen support from the regular survey of readers of the “ToryHoose” website plummet from 82.1% to just 4.8%.
Top of the approval list was Murdo Fraser – who Davidson beat in the leadership contest; Fraser is up 37.1 points to 80.4%.
Whilst unscientific, the findings point to Davidson’s inability to establish a credible Conservative line on the forthcoming independence referendum.
Launching her campaign to take the leadership crown in September, Davidson declared in no uncertain terms that the powers to be granted to Holyrood under the Scotland bill were the “line in the sand” and that she would not contemplate any further powers being granted to the Scottish Government and Parliament.
Having spoken of David Cameron as her colleague rather than her boss, and arguing it was her rather than him who was leader of the Conservatives north of the border, Davidson’s line in the sand was effectively torpedoed by the prime minister as he dangled the prospects of further powers for Holyrood if it rejected independence.
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“Well this is all a bit of a disaster, FWIW I agree with the prime minister’s stance, not Ruth’s.”
Mandy Rhodes, editor of Holyrood Magazine, has argued:
“Ruth Davidson’s line in the sand has moved so many times she could play hopscotch with the trace of her arguments.”
Whilst Nik Darlington, editor of the Tory Reform Group’s blog, commented in no uncertain terms:
“If unionists in the Conservative Party – and I presume, perhaps too romantically, this means most people in the Conservative Party – want to win the Scottish independence debate, they must see the necessity for further devolution.”
As Davidson, meanwhile, outlined her intention to lead a “pro union” campaign in Scotland, it is not just political bloggers causing her problems.
As one Scottish Conservative Party member, Paul Leslie, wrote in a letter to Scotland on Sunday over the weekend:
“As a Scottish Conservative I am saddened and disappointed by the lack of imagination and leadership being shown by Ruth Davidson at this important time in Scottish politics.
“Since the start of the independence referendum debate there has been much public discussion on the way ahead and what enhanced political powers are needed or not needed. These contributions have been good for democracy but are only the start of an exciting journey.
“Despite David Cameron’s rebuff when he last visited Scotland, Ruth Davidson is still in awe of everything the prime minister is doing. She even suggests that she can deliver greater freedom for Scotland if we adopt the Liberal/Conservative NHS, education and other public service reforms planned for England.
“Rolling back the state sounds fine but in reality will lead us up a blind alley and end in tears. Cheapest is not always the best and governments need to invest in good public services.
“Ruth Davidson leaves many Scottish Conservatives cold by her apparent lack of political awareness and realities of what is going on in Scottish politics. If she is not prepared to change she may have to consider looking for a safe Conservative seat in England in 2015.”
The whole affair which has weakened Davidson’s position comes as David Cameron has formally appointed a lobbyist who doubles up as a councillor on Horsham District Council in West Sussex to act as his adviser on Scottish issues.
Commenting on the appointment of Andrew Dunlop, the Daily Record in one of its editorials argued:
“David Cameron does not want to go down in history as the prime minister who presided over the break-up of the UK. At least, he says he doesn’t. Yet, so far at least, his blundering and bossy interventions in the independence debate have played into Alex Salmond’s hands.
“In fact, Salmond must rub his hands in glee every time Cameron opens his mouth – because the Eton-educated prime minister represents everything Scots most dislike about the Tories.
“High-handed, patronising and clearly out of touch with any sense of normal life away from the wealthy home counties, Cameron is fast becoming a poster-boy for independence.
“Clearly he needs a skilled strategist in No. 10 who can at least point him in the right direction when it comes to the complexities of Scottish politics. So what on earth is a Thatcherite lobbyist from West Sussex doing in such a key role?
“Cameron’s new man Andrew Dunlop – a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major – lives nearer to Paris than Edinburgh. He may have been born and educated in Scotland but that means nothing. He is virtually unheard of at Holyrood, where the nationalists are planning the biggest campaign in Scotland’s history to take us out of the UK.”
Whilst Cameron, meanwhile, has seemingly embraced the idea of further powers for Scotland in the face of opposition from his party’s leader at Holyrood, in Wales he has been accused by one of his own MPs of “merely tolerating” devolution.
In calling also for Cardiff Bay to gain tax raising powers, the party’s MP for the Welsh seat of Aberconwy, Gutto Bebb, is reported by the BBC as having told the Western Mail:
“It is bizarre and contradictory to see the Conservative Party championing localism at Westminster whilst often articulating opposition to accountable devolution in Wales.
“And yes, by accountable I do believe that responsibility for raising a portion of the Welsh government budget should be in Wales.”
Elaborating on his point, Bebb later told BBC Radio Wales:
“There is a growing understanding within the Conservative Party that in order to preserve the union we actually have to be very brave and take adventurous steps in terms of dealing with the constitutional issues once and for all.
“David Cameron’s speech in Scotland made that very clear in my view that in order to preserve the union you have to be willing to take a risk and I’m saying the party in Wales needs to do the same thing.”