Ruth Davidson has been leader of the Scottish Tories for barely five months, but already the chattering classes in the Scottish Parliament are talking about her having to make “the speech of her life” this weekend.
As the Conservatives were preparing to head to Troon for the Scottish conference, there was a gathering of the “intelligentsia” that frequents the Holyrood bar. Discussion turned to the state of Davidson’s leadership and her need to get a grip on her party.
“The Tory benches are mutinous,” declared a bottle of India Pale Ale.
“Naw… mutinous is too strong a word,” a large Scotch and water said dismissively.
“Perhaps they are a bit restless,” was the rather meek suggestion of a pint of lager.
“Naaaaw… that’s too weak a word,” growled the large Scotch and water.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the intellectual capabilities of these three sages did not stretch to finding an adjective that described precisely the feeling of unease that now surrounds Davidson’s leadership.
The short-comings of their vocabulary may have prevented them from articulating what their political antennae had picked up, but the point was that all three had detected murmurings of discontent.
It is these murmurings that Davidson must silence when she stands up to address the conference tomorrow. By then the clamour of today’s visit from David Cameron will have subsided, no longer drowning out the dissenting voices. The murmurers claim that at the age of only 33 and only a few months into the job, Davidson has already irritated some of her MSPs, most of whom did not vote for her in any case.
True, the allocation of portfolios to her team was mishandled with an attempt to move the redoubtable Liz Smith from education to rural affairs having to be abandoned. And a far from convincing performance on David Dimbleby’s Question Time last week did little to help her cause.
There has also been the problem of David Cameron’s offer to look at more devolution after a “no” vote in the referendum. This approach appeared to undermine Davidson’s view that a “line in sand” ought to be drawn when it came to constitutional matters.
But after speaking to a few Conservative MSPs before they headed to the seaside, there appeared to be hope for Davidson. One MSP, who did not vote for Davidson, suggested that the murmurings were emanating from malcontents in the Tory research department who have been read the riot act by a new leader, who, quite rightly, wants them to up their game. Another MSP (again not a Davidson supporter), said: “Nobody wants to go through another leadership election any time soon. I think the general view is that Ruth needs a chance to prove herself and it is far too soon to make an assessment of her progress.”
So all is far from lost. But tomorrow’s speech had better be a show-stopper.