Ruth Davidson is lighting up her party – but how high can she climb?

The Scottish Conservative leader is one to watch and, maybe, to fear


A female Conservative leader, loved by the grassroots and doing quite well for her party and for herself.

No, it’s not Theresa May, but Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who will today speak to the party faithful in Birmingham just ahead of the Prime Minister.

Having been elected as an MSP in May 2011, by November 2011 she had won the leadership of her party following elections to the Scottish Parliament which saw the Conservatives lose 5 seats and the SNP secure an outright majority. At that point, the Conservative brand  in Scotland was tainted to say the least.

Davidson properly registered on many people’s radars in May of this year by achieving the unthinkable, picking up an extra 16 seats to overtake Labour as the second largest party at Holyrood. She did so largely by galvanising and uniting the anti-independent vote behind her, capitalising on Scottish Labour’s difficulties in coming to a clear view about its plans for Scotland’s constitutional future.

By the time of the EU referendum, her performance in the final big TV debate on the BBC, especially her ability to take on Boris Johnson with real effect lead many to ask the question – was she a future leader of the UK wide Conservative Party?

Speaking at a fringe event at this week’s party conference Davidson made it clear that her ambitions know no bounds. She declared that the run up to the next elections to Holyrood will be a period of positioning the Conservatives as a credible alternative Government north of the border. Such ambition, drive and indeed energy has been her hallmark and it would not be a surprise at all if a move to Westminster beckoned for one of the Party’s most effective communicator.

But why has she done so well? Simply put, it has been about being her own woman and begin prepared, when needed, to put clear blue water between her and the party in London.

It is, for example, curious that on the one hand she has called for the SNP to stop stoking grievances between Holyrood and Westminster having herself failed to provide anything approaching enthusiastic support for Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

On policy as well, it takes a special kind of person to be able to attack George Osborne’s planned changes to tax credits and oppose any idea of grammar schools in Scotland while also remaining the darling of Number 10.

Quite simply, Ruth Davidson is different. Quick-witted, articulate, prepared to be her own person and, dare I say it, normal. All these qualities, together with her electrical success in what was once a no go area for the Conservative Party means she really is one to watch and watch closely.

As Ian Leslie, in his extensive profile of Davidson for the New Statesman concludes:

“We like to think that the best politicians will somehow find their way to power – that talent will rise to its appropriate level. But Davidson has only two paths to high office open to her: becoming first minister, or quitting Edinburgh for Westminster. Both are exceedingly steep. If she cannot or will not take either, in decades to come she may be remembered as we now recall her performance at Wembley: a firework show, lighting up the landscape without changing it.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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