Leader: Devolution dividend pays off for Davidson

Broad smiles in the sunshine as Ruth Davidson presents her Westminster team in front of Stirling Castle. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Broad smiles in the sunshine as Ruth Davidson presents her Westminster team in front of Stirling Castle. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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The rise and rise of Ruth Davidson continues apace, as she rides the crest of an indyref2 backlash that has launched the Conservatives into the unusual position in Scotland of having a popular cause at the same time as a popular leader.

The only downside to a memorable week for the Scottish Conservative leader was the need for Theresa May to seek support from the Democratic Unionist Party to form a government. Davidson, who is due to marry her female partner, wasted no time in going straight to the top to voice her concerns about a party that is opposed to gay marriage.

But in making her thoughts known so directly, almost immediately after the Prime Minister’s talks with the DUP, Davidson demonstrated that she is not prepared to defer to her superior when she does not feel comfortable with UK policy.

We have seen this approach over free prescriptions and the winter fuel allowance, when she took a different approach to party policy south of the border, explaining this variation by saying “devolution allows you to make different decisions”.

The latest suggestion of Davidson feeling confident enough to deviate from the script is over the running of the election campaign in Scotland, where she chose to go with an anti-indyref2 message as opposed to the “strong and stable” line. It barely needs hindsight to see the wisdom of taking that stand, as May’s advisers departed yesterday after savage criticism of the Conservative campaign, described by one senior Tory as “the worst manifesto in history”.

Davidson’s refusal to follow instructions from party HQ has led to reports that she is ready to break the Scottish Conservatives away from their UK colleagues, which of course she has denied, but it is clear she has benefited from a level of autonomy, and that she may feel that more control is required if further progress is to be made north of the border. That doesn’t mean there will be a split – a prospect rejected when Davidson saw off Murdo Fraser in the leadership race five years ago – but simply further “devolution”.

Events have shown Davidson was right to trust her own instinct during the election, and Theresa May should be grateful for that, because without the 13 seats won in Scotland, the Prime Minister would be described as the “former” Prime Minister today.

For however long she continues in office, May would do well to let Davidson get on with her work in Scotland. The Scottish party leader has delivered the one success story in what has been a grim week for her party overall, and is understandably being tipped for a bigger role on the UK stage. Ironically for a party that opposed the creation of a Scottish Parliament in the 1997 referendum, a little devolution has now gone a long way for the Conservatives.