FMQ Analysis: Rare Davidson missteps allow Sturgeon to shine

Scottish Tories leader Ruth Davidson speaks in the chamber. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Scottish Tories leader Ruth Davidson speaks in the chamber. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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It has become so de rigueur to laud the achievements of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, that her name was actually whispered as a potential Tory candidate, at Westminster, even in England.

But the Edinburgh MSP, who has revitalised the party’s fortunes north of the border, fell short of her usual standards at an election-themed First Minister’s Questions today.

Surely buoyed by her party’s high standing in the UK-wide polls, and with some suggestions the Scottish Tories could target up to a dozen SNP MPs, Ms Davidson could be forgiven for being on cloud nine.

The Tory leader left herself wide open to a number of sharp attacks from an on-form Nicola Sturgeon, and rather uncharacteristically left herself open to future criticism.

READ MORE: Sturgeon taunts Davidson over rape clause

Did a trip to London last night convince Ms Davidson than she was so well regarded that she could win the FMQs jousts with little preparation?

Whatever the reason, something was clearly awry with the Tory leader’s questions – and with two elections looming, the First Minister will be a grateful beneficiary of any more off-colour performances.

Microsoft Ex-Hell

Ms Davidson regaled us with the details of her London sojourn, noting that she had spent some time with Bill Gates, who lauded Britain’s contribution to international aid.

First open goal left by the Tory leader, first easy finish for Nicola Sturgeon, who noted with barely concealed glee that the UK target of spending 0.7% of their budget on foreign aid is in the firing line at the upcoming elections.

While no manifesto has yet been published, the aid figure has long been loathed by backbench Tory MPs, and right-wing papers are salivating at the prospect that Theresa May could abolish it.

Ruth Davidson said that Mrs May had committed to the target, but stands to look rather silly should the Prime Minister perform another u-turn and abandon the 0.7% figure.

READ MORE: Tories appeal to tactical voters

Ms Davidson followed up with her talk of the billionaire, saying his praise of Britain contrasts with an SNP MSP who wrote that living in Tory UK was akin to hell on Earth.

She concluded with a sentence many thought we would never hear in Holyrood: “Does the First Minister agree with Bill Gates, or Joan McAlpine?”

The First Minister noted again that Theresa May had neither pledged to enshrine the 0.7% target nor the so-called ‘pensions triple lock’.


Again seemingly feeling charitable, Ms Davidson allowed Ms Sturgeon to change gears after mentioning the work that the Department for International Development does on women’s issues.

The First Minister seized on the opportunity to again slam Ruth Davidson for her backing of the so-called ‘rape clause’ by which victims need to prove their third child was conceived through sexual assault before receiving benefits.

Ms Davidson retreated to her go-to answer that the SNP has the power to mitigate the clause, but again refused to answer whether she agrees with the policy in principle.

Another easy point chalked up for Nicola Sturgeon, who was also able to try out her key election message, that the Tories can’t be allowed to do more damage with an enlarged majority.

Perhaps Ruth Davidson is rankled that the SNP have stolen her slogan from last year, as Ms Sturgeon said her party will provide the ‘strong opposition’ needed to take on Theresa May at Westminster.

What Ms Sturgeon did show is that given the right circumstances, she can look masterly in these exchanges.

Ruth Davidson would do well not to give her too many more chances to do so unchallenged.

Abstain Pain

Kezia Dugdale decided to party like it was 1979 by challenging the SNP on why they abstained on yesterday’s vote to dissolve parliament.

It was a throwback to 2015, when Kezia Dugdale was deputy and the party was making hay on the SNP’s decision to bring down a Labour government in 1979.

Although it is true that the SNP’s logic for backing the election while not voting for it, it was hard to land a clean blow on the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon hit back with criticism of Jeremy Corbyn, saying that he was unelectable and would leave Labour carping from the cheap seats.

Ms Sturgeon’s then pulled out the rabbit, saying that the anti-Corbyn quotes were from Ms Dugdale, who opposed him in 2015 and 2016.

Kezia Dugdale said that the First Minister should tell the voters that by backing the SNP they are backing another referendum.

Again she inadvertently let Ms Sturgeon try another election line, that it is not her party’s fault that Labour lost, and certainly not her party’s fault that they look set to lose again.

The First Minsiter thrives in an election environment, as 2015 proved – and her opponents will need to up their game in parliament if they want to put SNP seats in danger on June 8th.