There’s little I can add really to all the debate and commentary that has swirled around the skirts of the Conservatives’ leadership contest. For innocent bystanders like myself, it has been so much more exciting than we dared to hope. Big ideas, fall outs, accusations of dirty tricks, and at the finish, one of the candidates hospitalised. On this last, this avid watcher of Scottish politics wishes Jackson a speedy and full recovery. He’s been impressive throughout the contest and of them all, gave far and away the best account of himself on the Newsnight Scotland interviews.
But he hasn’t really offered anything new or different. The idea of him winning by the vagaries of a transferable voting system tickles me hugely, not least because the Conservatives supposedly don’t like fairer voting systems. But if your electorate cannot pick a clear winner first time round, it really should be the candidate who can command the most support across the whole of the membership. If that means the second or even third placed person coming through the middle, then that’s democracy.
I’ve yet to understand why Margaret Mitchell threw her hat in the ring at the last-minute. It’s not like she has contributed anything unique or distinct, though it was good to see a leadership contest with complete gender balance. If she were to win, we’d get more of the same. Traditional Toryism which is taking the party backwards in electoral terms.
No I’m afraid, this contest has to be about change and doing something radically different if the Conservatives are ever to be a democratic force to be reckoned with in the future. There is a large right of centre vote to be had, but it ain’t voting Tory right now.
That conundrum has featured a lot in this contest, certainly in how candidates have pitched their challenge. One presumes it has dominated hustings too – if it hasn’t, then that says a lot.
Murdo Fraser has, of course, offered the most radical platform, promising to rip it up and start again. New name, new approach, new policies, new stance on the constitution. It caused many in the Tory faithful to reach for the smelling salts when the news reached you but made me sit up and take notice. It was a brave and bold move, that seems to be earnestly felt. Yes, I’m sure many Conservative members have asked why he’s been prepared to adopt the trappings of the current party, even as the depute leader, for ten years and more now. But actually, some lightbulb moments take a lot of electricity to generate. Politics creates moments and opportunities rarely; consequently, they need to be timed perfectly and grasped when they do arise.
This is one such for the Scottish Conservatives but do they have the temerity or foresight to choose it? They can prepare for years longer in the wilderness, on the fringes of Scottish politics, if they don’t.
Right at the start, I said Ruth Davidson would win this contest. And on the basis of simple numbers in the bag, I still hold to this prediction.
But I now no longer think she should win. Don’t get me wrong – it would be pleasing to see such a youthful, female and sunshiney leader at the top of Scottish politics. That in itself can only be a very good thing.
Sadly, Ruth Davidson should not win because she does not deserve to. The way she has played this leadership contest has shown up all of her weaknesses in technicolor brilliance. Simply, she is not ready.
Promoted as the change candidate, there is little actually she wants to change. Where she does advocate change, it is internal. And yes, this is long overdue and necessary. But these aren’t her ideas – the blueprint for internal reform has already been provided by the Sanderson Review. Overhaul like this is never easy, change by its very nature makes people nervous and thrawn. People will throw obstacles in the way, at every opportunity. Does Davidson have what it takes to force through reform that will be unpalatable and unwelcome by vested interests?
Her policy platform has been pretty safe. Boringly so actually. Oh I do get it. There is a need to not scare the horses when pitching for election, at any level. But you also have to give people something to vote for, and if you cannot be impetuous in youth….
And then there has been the conduct of the campaign. A campaign aide with some embarrassing student hi-jinks to account for. Clandestine meetings between old pals, one of whom just happens to be a leadership contender and the other the party’s paid Head of Communications. Inappropriate use of members’ personal emails. Dirty tricks cry her opponents! Dirty tricks retort her camp!
It’s all been a bit schoolgirl-ish with a catalogue of tactical errors, the biggest of which was to get found out. Politics, especially internal politics, is a dirty business. Everyone will do what they can to win, including pulling some dubious strokes, in all camps. The secret of success, and the measure of an appropriately wily operator, is to do what you need to do but cover your tracks. Harsh but realistic.
And Davidson has not demonstrated enough tactical nous in this contest to reassure that she will not get bogged down in similar melee as leader. These small spats are energy-sapping; they put parties on the backfoot; create headlines for all the wrong reasons. A successful leader knows how to navigate them confidently – which Davidson has demonstrated throughout – but better still, knows how to avoid them – and I’m not sure Ruth Davidson has the experience or savvy to know how to do this, yet.
And therein lies the rub. Ruth Davidson has the makings of a very good leader, but I’m less sure this is her time. She is far from ready and actually, the Conservatives need the radical overhaul Murdo Fraser proposes.
But what do I know? Maybe you think differently. So far, all the polling in this contest has been internal, now the rest of us get to have our say. Who do you think should be the next Conservative leader in Scotland? And no, you can’t choose none of the above….