Ruth Davidson’s Tories will dare to differ

Broad smiles in the sunshine as Ruth Davidson presents her Westminster team in front of Stirling Castle. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Broad smiles in the sunshine as Ruth Davidson presents her Westminster team in front of Stirling Castle. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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Ruth Davidson yesterday said her new team of MPs would stand up for Scotland amid growing signs that the Scottish Conservatives are planning a distinctive approach from the UK party.

The Scottish Tory leader unveiled her new Westminster team following an election from which she has emerged as one of the most influential Conservatives in Britain.

Showing off her bloc of 13 Scottish Tory MPs at a photo-call in Stirling, Davidson repeated her calls for Nicola Sturgeon to ditch her plans for a second referendum.

With Davidson’s campaign delivering the biggest Scottish Tory vote share for almost 40 years, the 13 MPs have greatly enhanced her powerbase within the party.

Given Theresa May’s failure to win an outright majority, keeping the Scottish Tories onside will be essential if she is to have any chance of forming a stable government.

Davidson responded to reports that the Scottish Tories would break away from the UK party by saying that, when elected leader six years ago, she argued against running a separate party.

But Scotland on Sunday understands the Scottish Tories intend to continue to develop their own identity while retaining links with London HQ and taking the Westminster whip.

Yesterday Davidson continued to flex her new found muscles by seeking assurances from May that her attempts to form a coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party would not result in any erosion of gay rights.

Davidson said the Prime Minister had said she would protect equality legislation when her concerns had been raised about dealing with the hardline Protestant party, which had objected to equal marriage.

Davidson said: “I sought and received assurances that not only would there be no roll back of LGBT rights in the rest of the UK – don’t forget the Conservative Party was the party of equal marriage and we brought it forward and made sure it passed in the House of Commons – but also that we would use any influence we have with the DUP to extend LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. That’s an assurance I was given.”

She added that she had asked the UK government to use its influence to “advance” LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, where gay marriages are still outlawed.

As an advocate of the UK remaining in the single market, Davidson also repeated her hopes that there would be an “open” Brexit, in spite of May’s pursuit of a hard Brexit.

“I’ve never believed in the terms of hard or soft Brexit,” said Davidson.

“I want to talk about open or closed – and as someone who believes in open politics, that’s about making sure we tear down barriers rather than put them up. It’s about making sure we put free trade and economic advancement at the heart of the Brexit deal as we leave.

“That also means making sure we have freedoms for key groups like our fishermen. We have to enforce the 200 mile or median catch line to make sure as we come out of the Common Fisheries Policy we get a good deal for our fishermen.”

Davidson was joined by David Mundell, once Scotland’s only Tory MP, and his 12 new colleagues, including Colin Clark and Douglas Ross, who defeated two big name SNP politicians.

Clark defeated former first minister Alex Salmond in Gordon and Ross took the Moray constituency from the SNP’s former Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

On suggestions that Davidson intended to run a separate party north of the border, a Scottish Tory source said: “We already have a lot of autonomy and that is being assessed. We do want to be a distinctive party in Scotland that specifically relates to the current circumstances we find ourselves in and the campaign was the perfect example.

“We did go our own way and it was successful.”

During the election campaign, Davidson was under pressure from May’s ex-adviser Fiona Hill to adopt the UK strategy of parroting the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable government” line.

Davidson, however, insisted on targeting the SNP’s plans for a second referendum, a tactic that reaped huge benefits at the ballot box.

The Tory source said: “Ruth was extremely forthright in making it clear that would not be the right campaign in Scotland and she comprehensively won that battle.”

Last night a spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “The reality is that the party in Scotland already has autonomy and has done for the last few years. We set out our own policy, we pick our own candidates, and we run the party to our own rules.”

“We will take time over the next few months to assess how we go forward. At the forefront of our mind will be our key aim to provide an effective opposition to the SNP at Holyrood.”