The Tories gathered yesterday in an Aberdeen battered by rain and hail, then Ruth Davidson bounded on stage and brought the sunshine.
There was a spring in her step and she radiated the happy-tired glow of the new parent. And that smile — the grin that can light up a thousand cybernat accounts — flashed helplessly when she spoke about baby Finn.
The little one was ‘such a fast learner and already has his own, cheeky personality. Or at least he did yesterday when I said to him: “And this is the button that broadcasts mummy’s rehearsal to the whole press room…”’
In the hall, they gurgled with delight just to have her back. Mummy’s home.
There is a lot of old sexist rot about motherhood softening women politicians. Davidson remains just as fierce. If anything, the wee man has given her new vim and her rallying cry — full of optimism and bounce — showed it. This was the battle hymn of the Tigger mother.
She told them: ‘I am, at heart, a political animal, so it has not been easy to be away. But trading acts and amendments for nappies and night feeds does at least help you to see the world a little differently.’
The fresh persepective had helped her understand popular anger at politicians over Brexit. ‘Before we are nationalists or unionists, leavers or remainers, we need to be democrats,’ she said, to audible approval.
Now was time to get a deal passed so we could all move on. Good luck with that.
Preparing Scotland for the economy of tomorrow was the lynchpin of the speech. New rules would require everyone under 18 to be in school, further education or work with training — effectively raising the school leaving age, though how effectively is up for question. There would also be a Lifelong Skills Guarantee to give everyone a chance to retrain for second jobs.
The one person Davidson is most keen to help into a new career is Nicola Sturgeon. Her speech was strewn with ‘as First Minister, I would…’ and ‘if I am Scotland’s next First Minister, we…’ Almost every speaker at conference, from Cabinet ministers to councillors, has roused delegates to ‘put Ruth in Bute House’.
Not long ago, such talk would have prompted guffaws — or a visit from some gentlemen proferring the latest in clinical restraint fashion. Now, it is a possibility, if still a distant one.
Her speech struck the opening bars of a lilting lullaby to hush the country’s fears of her party and soothe them into idea of a Tory government running Scotland.
Davidson’s warm-up act Michael Gove had tried to help, in his own way. Former journalist that he is, Gove knows how to turn a good line. Like so many in our trade, he doesn’t always know when to stop. The Environment Secretary’s speaking stint was first thing on Saturday morning but the bleary-eyed and those who had over-refreshed the night before still trudged out for him.
They had come for red meat and he served them chateaubriand at the outset: ‘Alexei Salmond, as I believe he’s now called on television, is in some respects symbolic of the SNP overall. They claim to be thinking about Scotland’s future, but their reality is Russia Today.’
The remaining cuts were cheaper. Under independence, ‘you’d have a Bureau de Change at Berwick and you couldn’t use sterling in Stirling’. Whether the dollar would be accepted in Dollar or the mark in Markinch, we were not told.
Perched in the front row, Ruth Davidson was chuckling along, until Gove sighed that SNP currency policy meant Sturgeon ‘has to argue for something that she doesn’t believe in which would drive up prices in Scottish shops and make Scotland poorer’.
Davidson’s face turned stonier than all the granite in Aberdeen. This is the time when she needs to shine but those stubborn Brexit clouds loom overhead.