The one bright spot for the Conservatives in this election was Ruth Davidson, who has led the party’s “extraordinary resurrection” north of the border, says The Times. Davidson’s “Tartan Tories” won 12 more seats in Scotland, “where the Conservative brand has been toxic for decades”. Praised by George Osborne, the former chancellor, as the “heroine of the election”, the charismatic 38-year-old “continues to gain in influence” in May’s new government. No wonder so many Tories “are desperate to get her down to Westminster”.
Leaders with the most impact “tend to win by confounding stereotypes”. Davidson is no exception. “A kick-boxing, vodka-drinking lesbian from Glasgow, she doesn’t just talk about modernisation, she embodies it.” And rather than clinging to the Tory affliction of “bring backery”, she wants her party to tackle inequality and poverty head on.
“Some Conservatives have a tendency to think ‘everything has been OK for me, why can’t other people make it too?’,” says a friend. “Ruth understands that life can be tough.” She has been made redundant and twice almost died – once as a child in a car accident, and the second time during a training exercise with the Territorial Army. She doesn’t simply talk about “just about managing” families, she understands the reality.
Born in Edinburgh, Davidson grew up “in two very traditional small Scottish towns” in the Borders and Fife, says The Scotsman. Her father was the son of a factory worker who left school at 16. He worked his way up to become a junior manager in the textile industry and later became a successful businessman involved with the whisky industry. “My parents were small ‘c’ conservatives”, says Davidson, “part of the working class vote that [the party] used to have in Glasgow”.
The family were strict Presbyterians and encouraged Ruth and her sister not to be “showy”, says The Herald. But she is a natural extrovert, who did well at the local comprehensive and won a place at Edinburgh University before pursuing a career as a journalist. She only joined the Conservative party in 2009, but her rise has been rapid – she became the new leader in 2011.
“One thing I learned as a journalist is that people can spot inauthenticity a mile away,” Davidson told The Herald in 2014. “Love me or loathe me, this is who I am and this is who you get.” Her critics claim she just got lucky. Having pinned her colours to the “binary” issue of independence, the Scottish Tories were the winners of the protest vote against the SNP’s plans for “indyref2” – and, with that now off the table, Davidson has lost her raison d’etre. That looks like sour grapes, says the Financial Times. The Tories should “take inspiration” from Davidson’s “policy platform, campaigning style and persona”.
For the moment, Davidson plans to stay in Scotland, although “she is ruling nothing out for the future”, says The Times. But even if she isn’t a candidate when Theresa May goes, there is much the Tories can learn from her. “The Conservative Party does have a natural leader – she’s just not in No. 10”.