For much of her six and a half years as Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson has got by on personal charisma and staunch Unionism. In 2016, her party asked to be put into opposition, so we mainly know what Ms Davidson is against. Not for much longer.
Even though it comes during a rare break from elections, Ms Davidson’s speech last night was her strongest claim yet that a Conservative can one day lead devolved government in Scotland. Because her personal stock is so high while across the UK her party’s is so low, it will also be seen as laying down a marker at Westminster.
Her handlers will deny it, but Ms Davidson is only stoking speculation by making fresh demands of her party in London to forego any new tax cuts in order to shore up the NHS budget. She also issues her clearest rejection of the net migration target.
READ MORE: Ruth Davidson launches pitch to become First Minister
Davidson barely mentions Brexit and skips the constitution, positioning herself as the heir to David Cameron’s project: soften and moderate the Tories’ image. Why? Internal polling is understood to show middle class Tories quite like the SNP’s policy agenda, and that Jeremy Corbyn has a surprisingly strong brand north of the Border.
So Tories can’t portray Mr Corbyn as being in Nicola Sturgeon’s pocket, or threaten to rip up the SNP legacy wholesale. But in Davidson, they feel they have a leader that can appeal to centre-left and right with credibility.