RUTH Davidson is due today to deliver a speech to mark her first 12 months as Scottish Tory supremo. Brian Monteith imagines the address she should deliver
Ruth walks up to the suitably modest lectern. It is a year since she was elected leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and despite it being more of a rollercoaster than a love boat, she knows in her heart that she, rather than David Cameron, has to be seen to be leading.
The anniversary of her first year in charge is not a threat, it is an opportunity, and one she must grasp with both hands.
The lights dim and the music starts: a cacophony that causes smiles, puzzlement and startled faces – it is Tony Blair’s theme tune, D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better.
The upbeat chorus halts abruptly and, at the same instant, a spotlight peers down on Ruth, she gathers her breath and begins.
“You may remember that song. I certainly do. I was only 18 at the time and it was the Labour Party’s anthem for the 1997 election. It defined the moment, it echoed what Scottish people thought – that things could only get better.
“Well, 15 years on and we’re all older and wiser, and here we are again, a Conservative Party cleaning up Labour’s disastrous mess yet again.
“And yet if we are honest with ourselves – and as a politician I believe that there can be no credibility and no connection with our people if we are not honest with them – that anthem could also define the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
“We keep believing things can only get better but despite our commitment, despite our creativity, and most of all despite our commitment to making Scotland a better place for everyone, things only seem to get worse for us.
“That may not be what you expect to hear from your leader but until we are honest with ourselves and identify what we are doing wrong, we shall never be able to move forward and be taken in trust by the Scottish public.
“So tonight I wish to say a few home truths, not just to you here but to the Scottish people outside.
“The first is that we undoubtedly got some things wrong when in power and opposition – the result of which is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined as anti-Scottish. Not because we are, but because it suits them to cast us outside of society, to de-normalise voting Conservative.
“I have often thought that such is the demonisation of our many good people that only wish to give themselves to public service – but have a view contrary to the consensus – that in Scotland it is easier to be a lesbian than it is to be a Conservative. That has to change. There is nothing unusual, abnormal or to be frightened about by being a Conservative. Most of my best friends are Conservative.”
The audience laughs and applauds; Davidson relaxes a little.
“Conservatives believe in an open society where individuals and their families can advance on merit, where those that need help are given a hand up and where serving the public requires sacrifice rather delivering easy reward.
“And yet we have been portrayed as aloof, arrogant and in it for ourselves. I’m from Buckhaven, I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.
“Chief amongst the myths that have been allowed to define us are that we sacrificed Scotland’s industry on the altar of British rebirth in the Eighties; that we unjustly used Scotland as a guinea pig for the poll tax; and that we have used Scotland’s oil for the benefit of Britain but the detriment of Scotland. All three lies need to be constantly challenged with vim and vigour.
“Many of the traditional Scottish industries had been in decline since the fifties, recquiring rescue in the Sixties and Seventies – but by the Eighties we had run out of lifebuoys. We had to make changes, some better than others, but from that change and innovation came the rebirth of Scotland by the Scottish people.
“Do not let the nationalists or the socialists deny it – for how else could Scotland become the most successful economy in Britain after only the City of London and the surrounding South-East?
“And you know what, we may be third but our quality of life is better – making Scotland the best place in Britain to live, to raise a family, to strive and to achieve.
“I’m told the golf and fishing’s no’ bad, either.
“And let me remind Alex Salmond that it was Margaret Thatcher who opposed Scotland having the poll tax first – it was Scottish Tories advocating what they believed were Scottish interests that argued for us to be at the front of the queue.
“Not for the first time, Margaret Thatcher was right but also misunderstood.
And when it comes to our oil, I have to say there is nothing more destructive, more corrosive, than setting family members against one another about who owns the winning lottery ticket. What if the cities of Aberdeen or Edinburgh were to say the rest of Scotland should not benefit from the wealth they create?
“And I ask you this, if the tables had been turned and all that oil had been found off the south coast of England, does anyone think English politicians would claim only England and the English should benefit from it?
“Since becoming leader, I have challenged David Cameron on issues, like supporting a third Heathrow runway, when it has been in Scotland’s interests to do so. But that is not enough, for we – the oldest political party in Scotland – are still defined as an English party. For us to advance, that must end. So we must challenge these myths, but we must do more than that – we must change, too, and we should recognise in the spirit of Disraeli that to make devolution work requires us to recast Great Britain.
“We must, therefore, recognise that the devolution settlement needs a new federal Britain where Scotland stands proudly within the British family. We can reduce the number of politicians, we can reduce the amount of government – call it Devo Simple or Devo Federal – but we must become the advocates of positive change rather than the beleaguered rearguard against inevitable defeat.
“Only then, for us, can things get better.”
There is what seems a pregnant, prolonged silence until Murdo Fraser starts applauding and the relief that the party is now one is tangible. Maybe things can get better after all.