Andrew Whitaker: Davidson must step up Conservative revival to prevent fresh thoughts of party breakaway
RUTH Davidson has been leader of the Scottish Conservatives for nine months now, following a campaign that saw her defeat rival candidate Murdo Fraser’s move to rename the party and launch a new centre-right Scottish political force.
A key plank of Ms Davidson’s campaign centred on her claim that, under her leadership, the Conservatives would finally begin to recover in Scotland after almost 20 years of continuous political decline.
Ms Davidson insisted that Mr Fraser’s radical step of effectively liquidating the party north of the Border and starting all over again was unnecessary and that the Scottish Conservatives could be brought back to life under her leadership, albeit with a political makeover.
Ms Davidson’s campaign pitch to the party faithful was very much a “one more push” political strategy to get the Scottish Conservatives back in to the game. But now getting on for a year after the battle to lead the party in Scotland that so sharply divided its members and MSPs, many of whom backed Mr Fraser, it’s worth looking at how Ms Davidson has fared during the political calm after the storm.
She has performed well enough at First Minister’s Questions, without really landing too many punches on Alex Salmond during the weekly political joust at Holyrood. She also seems to have managed to avoid any continuation of the splits that gripped the party during last year’s lengthy leadership election, with no real murmurings of discontent in the parliamentary party.
However, there has been no obvious sign of how and why the Scottish Conservatives would fare any better in Scotland come the next Holyrood and general elections.
Despite her slick leadership campaign last year, Ms Davidson was also unable then to set out an exact recipe for arevival north of the Border. She presided over a local council election campaign that saw the party once again fail to make any major progress, despite various political deals being cobbled together that have allowed Conservative councillors some influence in council coalitions.
It’s hard to see what Ms Davidson will be able to do to detoxify the Conservative brand in Scotland, particularly given the party’s lead role in the UK coalition government that is making the deepest cuts in public expenditure since those of Margaret Thatcher’s government in the early 1980s.
Mr Fraser’s proposal last year to abolish the Scottish Conservatives was clearly a divisive one, which offered no guarantee of electoral success. However, that proposal was the only one during the contest that put forward anything like a political game changer for the party. In the event that the managed decline of the Scottish Conservatives continues, it may be that his plans for a new centre-right party comes back on to the agenda.
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