Ruth Davidson’s successor has big shoes to fillby Alice Wright / February 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
The recent appointment of Jackson Carlaw as the new leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party was more of a coronation than a contest. Carlaw has been the interim leader of the party since Ruth Davidson went on maternity leave and continued in the role after her resignation in August, having previously served as her deputy since 2011. If the appointment was predictable, the surprise is rather how little Carlaw seems to be known compared to his highly familiar predecessor. Who is he and can he live up to Davidson’s record?
Carlaw was raised in Newton Mearns and educated nearby at the independent Glasgow Academy. Before heading into politics, he had a long career as a car salesman at Wylies Automotive Services and its successor FirstFord, the failures of which have seen him face criticism. Always political, unwaveringly Conservative, and dedicated to his home corner of Scotland, Carlaw joined the East Renfrewshire Conservatives in 1978 as a teenager. After a couple of failed attempts to enter the Scottish Parliament, Carlaw chaired the Scottish Young Conservatives and the Eastwood Conservatives, before moving on to become deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservatives. He was finally elected under Scotland’s additional member system in 2007 and again in 2011, to represent the West of Scotland region. He became the MSP for Eastwood in 2016.
Unfortunately, Carlaw’s bumpy electoral record followed him in his first bid to become party leader in 2011, finishing third behind Davidson and Murdo Fraser. Davidson appointed him deputy, a position he held until 2019. As interim leader, Carlaw led the party in the December election where, despite Conservative victory across the wider UK, it lost seven of the 13 seats gained under Davidson.
Sceptics now wonder whether he is up to the job. Davidson was praised as de-toxifying the Tory brand north of the border and restoring its fortunes. For Malcolm Rifkind, secretary of state for Scotland in the Thatcher administration and former long-serving MP for Edinburgh Pentlands, Carlaw “does not have Davidson’s charisma.” Ted Jeffery, a unionist campaigner in Scotland, consultant and deputy editor of political blog Comment Central, told me it was “almost like she achieved the impossible… It’s difficult in many ways to see how Carlaw could do even better and it feels like there is a great sense that now…