Tom Peterkin: Ruth Davidson risks angering Tories

Ruth Davidson during the publication of the Conservative devolution commission report. Picture: PA
Ruth Davidson during the publication of the Conservative devolution commission report. Picture: PA
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For some time it has been inevitable that the tide of political opinion demanding a stronger Scottish Parliament would wash away Ruth Davidson’s “line in the sand”.

It was almost three years ago, when Davidson successfully stood for the leadership of the Scottish Tory party, that she used the phrase to illustrate her reluctance to transfer more powers to Holyrood.

Despite her volte-face, in some ways her choice of words seems apt.

King Canute could have told the Scottish Tories who voted for Davidson in the leadership contest that lines in the sand tend not to have much of a chance against the incoming sea.

The publication of the Scottish Conservatives’ devolution commission report this week confirmed that Davidson has become a convert to the idea that the best way to fight the threat of independence is to offer a beefed-up Holyrood as an alternative.

Within her own party, however, there is a very strong risk of irritating those Tory members who voted for Davidson on the basis that she stood for the status quo on devolution.

“I suspect we might have a few members’ resignations,” a senior Conservative remarked ruefully yesterday.

“Some will say this is just not a Tory thing to do. There has always been a hardcore unionist group, who have always been opposed to devolution or any moves towards more devolution. But there is no future in pandering to that side of opinion.”

So far, those amongst Davidson’s cadre of MSPs who may believe that the devolution commission has gone too far are keeping their counsel. And with the referendum approaching fast, they are likely to keep their thoughts to themselves in the interests of maintaining party discipline.

Winning the referendum is of greater importance than refighting a lost battle – especially now that the more-powers narrative has become a key strand of all the pro-Union parties’ referendum arguments.

But amongst the Tory grass roots, there is recognition of the irony that Davidson has played such a pivotal role in the party embracing more powers.

Her conversion to the more-powers cause came after she had defeated a Conservative politician who has long been an advocate of such a move.

Her main rival for the party leadership, Murdo Fraser, lost out in the contest despite calling for the kind of strengthened constitutional settlement that Davidson once argued against and now supports.

As one activist said: “For those of us who have been arguing for this direction of travel, it is good to see it coming to fruition. The flip side is that all the heavy lifting for this has been done by Murdo and his team.”