Ruth Davidson has spoken out against the homophobic abuse she has suffered since becoming Tory leader in Scotland and fears that growing levels of online hate could put women off a career in politics.
The Edinburgh Central MSP has revealed she also makes a point of “hitting back” at the vitriolic messages which are levelled at her on social media to show that high-profile gay figures can stand up to it.
Over time it has changed from lesbian kick-boxer Ruth Davidson to Tory leader Ruth Davidson, and that is victory in itselfRuth Davidson
Ms Davidson was the first openly gay leader of a major UK political party when she took the helm of the Scottish Tories in 2011 and admits it was “frustrating” to find herself described as a “kick-boxing lesbian”.
Her position was backed last night by senior figures at the Equality Network, who described the abuse as “unacceptable”.
Ms Davidson spoke out yesterday at a women’s leadership event staged by Aberdeen Asset Management at the Scottish Women’s Golf Open which gets under way tomorrow at Dundonald Links in Troon.
The rise of social media has amplified the abuse which female leaders, including Nicola Sturgeon, are forced to endure, according to Ms Davidson.
“We get criticised a lot,” she said. “I think part of the rise of our individual and collective sort of rise within Scottish politics has come along at the same time as the rise of social media and therefore there is more abuse that is publicly available to see.
“Are there more people at home saying ‘I can’t bloody stand that Ruth Davidson I’m going to turn off the telly’ than there was before? Probably not.
“But are there more people on Twitter calling me fat, useless, dykey, lesbian and all of these other things that come along with you, things on appearance, sexuality, gender?
“Yes there probably is more. I think that some people, that will put them off. I think it’s a great tragedy, because, its old fashioned to say it, but being a politician is about service, or at least it should be.”
The most high-profile incident of online abuse suffered by Ms Davidson saw Nicola Sturgeon apologise for “vile” comments posted by SNP member Marc Hughes who was suspended by the party two years ago. He later contacted Ms Davidson to apologise.
At Holyrood now, both Ms Davidson and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale are openly gay, while Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie identifies as bisexual.
The Tory leader insisted it was important to pick up on the vitriol she is forced to endure.
“The stuff that I do get bothered about and I take pains to challenge, is I get quite a lot of homophobic abuse, because I have always been out since I started standing for elections,” she added.
“I have a lot of young gay followers on social media and I think that it is important for me to every now and again, every month or so, to pick up a couple of the really vile stuff that comes through, and hit back at it.
“It is important that people like me are able to show them that you can stand up and say, ‘that’s not acceptable language.
“You don’t get to call me these things and having nothing said about you’.”
Ms Davidson’s unconventional style saw her widely described in profiles as “lesbian kick-boxer Ruth Davidson”, which she now admits was “really frustrating”.
She added. “I hadn’t been a politician for very long, but there was also a point to that as well, what people thought folk within the Tory party wouldn’t vote for.“
She added: “There was an undertone. I was really worried that I would just be ‘the gay politician’ and I thought I had more to say.
“Over time it has changed from lesbian kick-boxer Ruth Davidson to Tory leader Ruth Davidson, and that is victory in itself.”
Scott Cuthbertson, development manager at the Equality Network, said: “The abuse that Ruth Davidson faces is unacceptable.
“Sadly Ms Davidson is not alone in that this kind of offensive abuse happens to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people on a daily basis in Scotland.”