Ruth Davidson leaves the stage with smile of relief

Bang on 11 as advertised (she is ex-TA, after all), Ruth Davidson strode through the doors and over to the podium with martial resolve.

Her expression was neither anguish nor joy, but stoic relief, as though she had climbed more or less unscathed from the wreckage of a plane crash. The stiff upper lip wobbled only briefly, as she told how her family had come second to her professional life for too many years.

The personal took top billing in her valedictory speech, with the political relegated to the final act. She spoke of the ‘privilege’ of leading her party, of ‘the most important contribution of my working life’: her efforts to save the Union from separatism.

But it was to family and one little boy in particular that her words mostly cleaved. Baby Finn, all of ten months, may have been happily oblivious to yesterday’s goings on but he was at the centre of them. He was the reason she had come to ‘make a different choice’.

There was a Holyrood election scheduled for 2021 and every chance of a snap Westminster poll before then. The toll would be too much on her and her loved ones. She confessed: ‘Having led our party through seven national elections and two referenda, I know the efforts, hours and travel required to fight such campaigns successfully.

‘I have to be honest that where the idea of getting on the road to fight two elections in 20 months would once have fired me up, the threat of spending hundreds of hours away from my home and family now fills me with dread. That is no way to lead.’

Fire. That’s what was missing, though in truth it had left her eyes some time ago. Children change things and grown-ups do too, and what passes for grown-ups at Westminster had transformed her party.

Here she turned political, but not resentful. Without a hint of bitterness, she accepted that the Prime Minister had chosen his course and she gave him her support.

She had been down to Westminster the previous week, ‘looked him straight in the eye’ and asked if he was truly doing his all to secure a deal. He said he was and she believed him.

It was generous given their tempestuous history but, then, Davidson has always been a roller-up of sleeves, not a stamper of feet. She’s a Tory, don’t you know.

The tone was sombre but not indulgently gloomy, though her voice hardened when she directly addressed MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit. They had spurned three opportunities to vote for a withdrawal agreement; if a fourth came before them, it would be their final chance.

She reflected on the surfeit of referendums in recent years, and bemoaned politicians who exploited them as an alternative to running the hard yards of leadership. There needed to be more respect in politics, but while the cut and thrust has always been rowdy — Gladstone and Disraeli could go at it like stairheid fishwives — there has been a marked decline in civility.

Politics has become about tribes and labels; the virtuous versus the villains. The object is not to win debates but to prevent them from happening by placing your opponent beyond the pale of respectability. It wasn’t always like this. There used to be two sides to every argument. Them were the days.

None of this was Ruth Davidson’s concern anymore. Alas for the gathered political hacks, there would be no by-election. The most capable Tory politician of her generation would serve out the remaining years of her parliamentary career on the backbenches, a brutal symbol of how badly wrong our politics has gone.

Her successor will have to contend with all this. She returns to the bosom of Jen and Finn, far from stark questions and unforgiving flashbulbs. Fourteen minutes after taking the stage, her farewell performance was complete.

From this stage and thousands like it, she has played the many roles demanded of her: Ruth, cheerleader for the Tory cause. Ruth, warrior for the Union. ‘Ruth the Mooth’, hate-figure for nationalism. She exited left, with an almost illicit smile.

She was just Ruth again.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] Feature image © Gareth Milner by Creative Commons 2.0.

%d bloggers like this: