She has a reputation for being a different kind of Conservative—but just how far can Davidson go?by Dani Garavelli / August 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Before Ruth Davidson went for her new job, she had her hair cut very short. Looking back at 2011 and her audacious bid to lead the Scottish Conservatives after just a few months as a member of the Holyrood Parliament, she now sees the gesture as over the top. After all, no one in the party had made her sexuality an issue. But at the time, she felt she was making an important point: elect me, and you’ll know what you’re getting. I will not change to suit your purposes.
That directness is the core of Davidson’s appeal. There are other ingredients: her effervescence, her bawdy humour and the counterbalance she provides to the stuffy ranks of Tory men. But it’s her unshakeable sense of her own identity, an insistence on being “out and proud”—whether it’s in relation to being a Church of Scotland-going lesbian, or a Tory in post-Thatcher Scotland—that is her unique selling point.
That same authenticity is the reason why Davidson, the newbie, beat her more experienced rival, Murdo Fraser, to become leader of the Scottish Conservatives. And seven years on, it is also why, even without a Westminster seat, moderate Tories are latching on to her as a potential future prime minister, an ambition she denies perhaps a little too forcefully. So, after successfully resuscitating the Tories north of the border, could Davidson really offer her party, and Britain, a brighter tomorrow, beyond the Brexit storm?
Davidson’s determination to do things on her own terms was in evidence again earlier this year when she revealed her IVF pregnancy. She was, party sources say, determined it should not be presented as some big “gay moment.” But Davidson has an instinct for publicity, and the announcement received a good deal of respectful attention.
The thrust of her message, reiterated at a recent gender summit, was that she and her partner Jen Wilson were just ordinary women who would juggle the demands of childcare and a busy working life. But now, as all her Tory counterparts at Westminster sink into the quagmire of Brexit, Davidson’s forthcoming spell of absence on maternity leave looks serendipitous. She’ll quit the scene in October, allowing her to sit out the next six months and return in the spring, just after Brexit is supposed to be done.