Daniel Johnson: Will Ruth Davidson's successor be able to repeat trick of making conservatism seem human?

Ruth Davidson's departure leaves the Scottish Tories without an obvious successor, this is a big opportunity for Labour, writes Labour MSP Daniel Johnso

Ruth Davidson has stepped down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Picture: Greg Macvean

Turning points in politics are typically created by two key factors.

The first is crises; the second is changes in leadership.

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Labour’s fortunes decisively changed in the ‘90s with the Black Wednesday crisis, only months after losing an election all assumed we could not lose.

Daniel Johnson. Picture; PA

David Cameron undoubtedly seized on Tony Blair’s departure and cemented his challenger status against a Prime Minister far less nimble at the Despatch Box.

Right now in Scottish politics we have both factors at play. The Brexit crisis has brought about the previously unthinkable act of suspending Parliament. At the same moment, Ruth Davidson leaves the Scottish Conservative leadership without an obvious successor able to repeat her trick of making conservatism seem human to the Scottish electorate.

This is a big opportunity for Scottish Labour. It is also one that is not simply a matter of posture. Labour’s message of internationalism and solidarity has a chance of cutting through where the politics of the governing parties of both Westminster and Holyrood are defined by schism and nationalism. New borders do not solve problems, they create them.

Our support for the unions of the UK and the EU can bring back former Labour voters who left us for Ruth Davidson’s Tories.

But to seize this opportunity we must also study Ruth Davidson’s undoubted success. Her rehabilitation of the Conservatives in Scotland centred on clarity on the key issues of the day. But it was not solely based on constitutional positioning.

She questioned the cosy consensus of the Holyrood bubble. This has been uncomfortable for Scottish Labour at times as many of the points of consensus we were in part or in whole responsible for. But all too often that has led to a shying away from the need to modernise and reform.

Scottish Labour has a duty to step up and fill the void. We need to be plain speaking, focused on Scots’ everyday experience but most importantly not shy from advancing change and challenging consensus. Only time will tell whether we are up to this challenge.

Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.