I’m not saying Ruth Davidson is planning to kill your family dog but I’d keep an eye on her.
I have no evidence that she is a menace to canines or anyone else, but I’ve been listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches and it seems there is no depravity foreign to the Scottish Tory leader. Addressing the STUC in Aviemore last week, the SNP chief spat out the word ‘Tory’ at a rate of once a minute. She’s got tartan Tourettes — she could be speaking about River City or the price of teabags and she’d find a way to bring it back to the Conservatives.
For some time now, the SNP has prospered by shouting ’Tory’ and watching the votes pile in. ‘The Tories’ were the political equivalent of ‘The Man’ who harassed mothers threaten their recalcitrant offspring with in supermarkets. ‘Coco, if you don’t stop eating the Pick ’n’ Mix, Ruth Davidson is going to come and charge you up-front tuition fees.’
In fashionable parlance, this is called ‘othering’. Instead of dealing with your opponents’ arguments, you anathematise them. That way it doesn’t matter what they say — they have no right to be heard. This did not begin with the SNP but with Labour, Scotland’s nationalist party back when the SNP was three home economics teachers passing a flask of tea around a draughty hall in Stirling. Labour grasped the political currency in framing the Tories as alien to Scotland and her oft professed but seldom defined ‘values’. This served the comrades well until one day they found themselves ‘Red Tories’, the new national enemy, and summarily replaced by the SNP as Scotland’s latest saviours from mythical persecution.
But much like the F-word after Kenneth Tynan uttered it on live television in 1965, ‘Tory’ has steadily lost its power to shock. Polling suggests Ruth Davidson’s party could win as many as 12 seats in June’s general election as voters turn to the only outfit they reckon can put a stop to Miss Sturgeon’s endless referendum threats. The First Minister has been thrown by this; she’s never had to fight the Tories on substance before. For a politician who has built her career on rhetoric, this is a disorienting experience and in the absence of any better ideas, she is going to stick with rhetoric for now.
The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon grows hollower by the day. You need not be a nationalist to respect the men and women who toiled for years to get the SNP taken seriously. Would they recognise their party today, a press release dispenser in search of a principle? Miss Sturgeon says she personally supports EU membership but won’t say if the SNP manifesto will endorse it; Alex Salmond says the party would now settle for the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). SNP MPs openly question GERS, the Scottish Government’s own figures which show Scotland with a £15bn deficit. Finance secretary Derek Mackay has (belatedly) defended the integrity of civil servants.
After nine months of demanding a second independence referendum, Miss Sturgeon has dropped all mention of it from the general election campaign. Her spokesman has said a good showing for the SNP in June would be an endorsement of Indyref 2 but a bad result would have no impact on Indyref 2. (The Scottish Government has an ever-expanding army of special advisers; it seems they’ve now added White House press secretary Sean Spicer.)
This is what happens when you gut your party of all policy and place the constitution at the centre of everything you do. It wins you elections but it also changes your opponents and the country at large.
If, as the polls predict, Scotland sends a clutch of Tory MPs to Westminster, it will be a personal and political triumph for Ruth Davidson. The ‘lesbian kickboxer’ patronised by the Press, vilified by Nationalists, and dismissed by the commentariat will have landed a knock-out blow on her critics. It will confirm her position as the 24th member of Theresa May’s Cabinet and the second most powerful woman in Tory politics. She will have earned her place in history — and the right, somewhere down the line, to go off and have a normal life and let the next generation take up the torch.
However, she will have done so with a contentless conservatism, a Tory Party which has been forced by the Nats to concentrate mainly on one issue – saving the United Kingdom. The Union is far from an ignoble cause, and Miss Davidson has reinvented Tory Unionism as an alloy of right and left patriotisms, pride in British institutions welded to a Labourish solidarity across the nations. Miss Davidson is hardly to blame. She is not a nationalist and indeed believes in more than a flag; the SNP’s decision to hold Scotland hostage to the politics of division has forced her hand.
Whether it’s the SNP or the Tories, everything now revolves around the constitution. My local MP is Deidre Brock, an Australian actress turned SNP politician. She seems sensible enough and in different circumstances would probably win my vote. But if I don’t want my country plunged into another bout of rancour and discord, I’ll have to hold my nose and vote for some Labour non-entity. (You think tactical voting is agonising? Try being a gay man and not being able to vote for someone off Home and Away.)
Scotland has to stop fearing demons and looking for messiahs. The strongest argument for independence — perhaps the only argument now — is that it would deprive the Scottish establishment of its perennial bogeyman. The only country in the world where a subsidy is seen as a jackboot would have to fend for itself and take responsibility for its tax hikes and spending cuts, its limitations and failings. The alternative is to become a nation of Pete Wisharts, a man who doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder so much as a fish supper.
The SNP thinks itself the only party that believes in Scotland. The rest of us believe in Scotland too. We believe it can be better than this.
Spare a thought for Ian Murray, the only Labour MP in Scotland.
He’s known as one of Parliament’s hardest workers and wanted to remind his constituents of this ahead of June 8. So he sent them a letter listing his achievements. Alas a mix-up at the printers meant the page had been left blank. Murray showed good humour about the blunder and even posed with the unmarked paper in a social media video.
Murray is staunchly pro-Union — very staunch; he was once pictured in a Union Jack blazer — and it’s no wonder he’s the SNP’s top target. Don’t bet against him, though. He’s popular with locals in a constituency that voted 65% against independence.
Tories and Lib Dems in the capital’s leafy suburbs know Nicola Sturgeon is itching for a mandate for Indyref 2 and will be wary of splitting the Unionist vote. They’ll back a Labour moderate with a blank sheet before they hand the SNP a blank cheque.
Donald Trump has blamed the US Constitution for his lacklustre first 100 days. I must have missed the clause that forces the President to take 16 golf trips in three months. It reminded me of the Republican congressman who once tried to discuss the Constitution with Trump. ‘I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII,’ Trump assured him. ‘There is no Article XII,’ the congressman replied.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.