Inside Politics: Scottish Tory leader should take time to define direction of her party
NEW Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, perhaps ironically, says that Johann Lamont’s time as Scottish Labour leader will be “characterised by decency and principle”.
Ms Davidson’s own leadership could be characterised as lonely and uncertain: lonely because most of her colleagues could not be relied on in a foxhole, and uncertain because beyond the topic of childcare, for which she appears to have developed an unhealthy obsession, she appears lost.
As leader, Ms Davidson needs to seize the bigger picture, not nitpick, and most particularly not nitpick by comparing England to Scotland, a favoured tactic to date.
Actually, she should forget entirely about “issues” over the Christmas break. She should also forget about her fellow MSPs. A Christmas card is not going to win them over. Instead, she should hunker down and read Michael Oakeshott’s essay Rationalism in Politics because although the essay was written in 1947, what Oakeshott observed then still holds true, and his elegant prose amid the odd Christmas carol might help Ms Davidson catch a useful glimpse of herself.
Rationalist politics, according to Oakeshott, are essentially little more than “the triumph of technique” promulgated by people with no real idea about the “direction of movement of a society”. In his day, rationalist politics were the politics of ideologies; nowadays, they are the politics of the instant rebuttal, the PR machine and the press release, those technical devices in which politicians place an inordinate amount of confidence.
First Minister’s Questions are currently the ultimate in rationalist politics, being nothing but a triumph of technique since we learn nothing from them except who is quickest on their feet. This is never going to be Ms Davidson. Yet no real disaster there. Real disaster only beckons if FMQs turns into her entire political entity.
There are politicians, so Oakeshott writes, whose “knowledge does not extend beyond the written word which they read mechanically – it generates ideas in their heads but no taste in their mouths”. This is the nub, for if Ms Davidson has a “taste in her mouth” beyond trying to outwit Mr Salmond each week, we have yet to see it.
Her leadership is still new, but so far, so bland. Her technique may improve, but let’s be realistic: however good Ms Davidson becomes at FMQs, she is not going to lead the Scottish Tory party to electoral victory.
Over the holiday, she needs to think about her own criteria for success. To be the Scottish Tory leader who threw the rationalism out of Scottish Tory politics and made them interesting again would be laudable. To find her leadership characterised not just by political principle but also by political courage would be enviable. Come on, Ruth. Take a slug of brandy, kick over the traces and go, girl, go. If you have enemies behind, you may yet find friends ahead.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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