IF THE new leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, thought her reputation as a ferocious exponent of kickboxing would intimidate her parliamentary colleagues at Holyrood so they bent to her will when she came to choose what is grandly called a “shadow cabinet”, she was rapidly disabused of any such notion yesterday.
After a day of comings and goings to her office, in which a string of MSPs simply refused to do as she demanded, Ms Davidson was forced to back down, leaving her in the highly embarrassing position of being unable to announce the team which she hopes will carry the Tory fight to Alex Salmond and the SNP in the Scottish Parliament.
The reasons for this mood of rebellion among Tory MSPs is obvious to all, and should be to Ms Davidson herself. Many of the party’s few tribunes at Holyrood voted for her rival Murdo Fraser, who yesterday refused her offer to remain as deputy leader, the position he occupied under Annabel Goldie, and promptly walked off to the back benches after being refused the job he wanted of leading the Tory campaign against independence.
Ms Davidson herself must also carry some of the blame for what happened yesterday, as she used her campaign to ramp up the rhetoric against Mr Fraser’s plans to disband the Tories and form a new right-of-centre force. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. No doubt bruised from her attack and his defeat, and with the support of far more MSPs than her, Mr Fraser will feel his demands were perfectly reasonable.
However, he must shoulder some responsibility for this latest outbreak of Tory unrest. For instead of suggesting a new party but promising a debate after he was elected, he went hell for leather for the idea, probably scaring off small “c” conservatives fearful of radical change. He also failed to spell out what a new party would stand for.
The result of these bitter divisions was clear last night, with Jackson Carlaw, who came third in the leadership contest, emerging as the third choice for deputy leader, after it appears ex-Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson also turned down the position. The new leader’s weakness was underlined when the steely Liz Smith, Mr Fraser’s campaign manager, refused to move from her education brief.
So where does this leave Ms Davidson? After less than a week in the job, her authority in her party has been undermined, something which the Conservatives’ opponents will exploit, if they can be bothered, that is. There is an easy alliteration in the phrase “Tory turmoil”, and once a party, particularly one in a perilous state like the Tories’, acquires a reputation for division it is very hard to shake off.
It is early days. Ms Davidson may yet live up to her kickboxing image and emerge, eventually, truly in command. For now, she has the dubious honour of having enjoyed the shortest honeymoon in recent political history.