For a (relatively) young MP, who came through the Conservative youth wing, worked for the Party in the UK and Brussels, and has engaged with think tanks and helped develop policy, you would think that a leadership election, with all the opportunities to argue policy ideas, hit the refresh button and start anew, would be an exciting and engaging time. And of course, on one level, it is. However, on another, it is, for me, a time of deep frustration and disappointment that it had to come to this.
This was not a leadership election I wanted. Over the past seven months, I have gotten to know Theresa May very well. In my view, no one has striven harder, nor demonstrated a greater commitment to the role of our Prime Minister than her. I firmly believe that the country’s best interests would be served by her continuing as Prime Minister. But we are where we are.
Serving as an MP is a huge privilege, but it comes with huge responsibilities. Not least because, in times like these, it is the MPs who narrow the possible candidates for Prime Minister down to the final two and then, as members of the wider Conservative Party, vote for which one we want to see in Number 10.
Initially, I backed Matt Hancock for the role. I saw in Matt the enthusiasm, drive and commitment to our country that is needed by a Prime Minister. He also espoused the socially liberal, One Nation policies that I think we need to own if we are going to appeal to a new generation of voter, across the UK.
It was therefore disappointing when Matt decided to withdraw from the competition. I took a few days to reflect on the situation we are in regarding Brexit and to consider who was best suited to getting us out of the impasse we are in. Who had the proven record to deliver as Prime Minister, see us through Brexit and restore the confidence of the British public- especially those who across the UK (including in Scotland) have started to lose faith in the centre-right and are turning to the narrow nationalist populism of the Brexit Party and the SNP?
I concluded that the only person who can deliver this is Boris Johnson. This came as a surprise to many of my friends both within and without politics. But the fact is there is a howling gale of nationalism and populism, whipped up by leaders like Farage and Sturgeon, battering on the door of Westminster, attempting to break in, destroy our politics and our union forever and fundamentally alter the very understanding of who we are as a nation.
We simply cannot allow ourselves to be indulge in fantasies of ‘what might have been’, but instead must fight on what the facts are. And the fact is simply this - we have a small window to deliver Brexit and Boris is, in my view, the only person that is capable of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament, neutering the threat posed to our politics and our union by the Brexit Party and the SNP and moving on to take on the other challenges facing our country.
Attending cabinet with Theresa May, I have been lucky to get to know and see nearly all the candidates at work, to hear their contributions and ideas. I believe any of the candidates in the final five, would make excellent Prime Ministers, particularly Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart and Michael Gove. It is my view that they should all be front and centre of our next Government- taking the fight to Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP. The election really has brought out the best in our party and I’m glad it has been a positive one with genuine, new ideas. In normal times, choosing between the candidates would have proved almost impossible.
But these are not normal times. So if the Party membership chooses Boris Johnson (and I believe that they will), it is crucial that MPs from across the party unite behind him, so that those of us like myself on the One Nation wing can hold him to his promises to govern as a consensual, modern conservative who will support business and govern for the whole UK.
It is particularly important that Scottish Conservatives are vocal in their support for our next Prime Minister, or we will simply play into the false SNP narrative of having an English Conservative Prime Minister foisted upon Scotland against its will. After all, any Conservative Government will need the support of the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs in future votes.
Boris has a proven record as Mayor of London in delivering real and progressive change. I believe he can do so again as PM. I say this as a Remain voter still unconvinced that Brexit is the solution to all our ills. However, I am first and foremost a democrat and a realist, and we need to deliver on our promises. That’s why I voted three times for the Prime Minister’s deal to leave on the 29th March.
We must all now reflect on how the Conservative Party and the country can come together quickly; how we can, ultimately, deliver Brexit,with a deal, and leave the European Union as the British people have demanded we do and go on to ensure that this union, our United Kingdom, endures.
• Andrew Bowie is the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine