Vote! Who should be next Scottish Conservative leader?

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….

10 thoughts on “Vote! Who should be next Scottish Conservative leader?

  1. Ruth Davidson’s chances could have taken a nosedive today if enough people read the Herald’s story reporting that she was apparently looking to take the Taylor, Rifkind and Fox route to Westminster via an English seat (Bromsgrove) before they vote. That could be very good news indeed for Jackson Carlaw. We shall see soon enough.

  2. Davidson will win of course – she will be seen as a safe pair of hands at the tiller of HMS Scots Tory. I think some Tories will actually believe that simply voting her in will be all the change the party needs, as they dust off and thump the old tubs and try to shout the old arguments a bit more loudly. But lets remember, she is a failed candidate for Westminster and achieved her position in the Scots parliament via the generous List system and the Kindness of aunty Bella.

    She is also a Tory. A Tory that makes all the old arguments, makes the same imbecilic pronouncements about devolution – “This far, no further” Like she has a say in the matter, and could sell it to us if she did. Or the incredible articles she penned (sadly I don’t have the links) were she declared that Scots were warming to Cameron and that come the Scottish elections, the Tories would sweep the other parties aside and achieve victory. This sounds like someone who lives in their own little fantasy land, giving voice to thoughts best left unsaid. When you read Alex Massie and his thoughts that she will be the match of Big Eck, you just have to laugh.

    So here is my prediction for what it’s worth.

    Murdo Fraser wins: Party splits, with Fraser’s new party becoming a version of UKIP. The remaining Tories lead by Davidson/Carlaw/Mitchell changing into a slightly more vocal and annoying version of the Crofters Party.

    Any of the others win: Party slowly diminishes in importance and becomes a more vocal and annoying version of the Crofters Party.

    I say this with tongue planted firmly in cheek of course, but we must remember that 400k voted for this party, it must also be remembered however, that this vote share is spread so thinly over Scotland that it simply can’t dominate any area effectively. And these 400k Tory voters are slowly changing over to parties they think can deliver, or are simply not voting any more. If the Scottish parliament were to have used a FBTP system, they would have no MSPs at all. All their current serving members including Davison are list MPs, Even Annabel Goldie is a list MSP having come third in the Renfrewshire North and West constituency in 2011. I do believe that had the Scottish Parliament used the FBTP, the Tories would simply have ceased to exist as a party by now, with Murdo’s plan being implemented much earlier.

    The proportional system is all that’s keeping them going. I see no realisation from the Tories that this is the case and it needs to be addressed. This is because they still seem to think they are the default party of Government, and it must be their turn at some point surely.

    They are living on borrowed time in my opinion.

  3. Scotland already has a right-of-centre party… Scottish Labour (I dank you…)

    Seriously though, I think the only chance the Tories have is to follow Fraser’s policy of re-founding a right of centre party that is centre right in Scottish terms as oposed to the current Conservitives that isn’t just hard right in Scottish terms but promotes downright alien values.

    I quoted “Football against the Enemy” in a post a couple of weeks ago, in a seperate chapter (“Celtic and Rangers, or Rangers and Celtic”), there was a prediction in the book that “Had Labour won the 1992 elections, it would have created a Scottish assembly. Soon, truly Scottish parties would probably have replaced the Labour and Tory parties”. Maybe this is the first sign that this is going to happen.

  4. It’s got to be Ruth Davidson – she reflects perfectly the values of patronage from shadowy figures, and has the necessary shiny face and all-round sneakiness to fit right in to the modern Conservative Party of David Cameron!

    Besides, what a fantastic photo opportunity it’d be if she got married while in office. It’d be worth it for that alone.

  5. Why doesn’t the last placed candidate automatically get entered into the Scottish Labour leadership race?

    That could solve both an unsuccessful Murdo’s and Labour’s problems in one fell swoop!!!

  6. Drum for arse (anagram)

  7. Very generous assesment, Burd
    Can I be selfish here. The only hope I can see of any revival for the Tories in Scotand, after the loss of Derk Brownlee in May, lies in Murdo Fraser.
    Therefore I would like Ruth Davidson to win in the short term.
    There is something slightly unpalatable about Ms Davidson and you can usually tell a person by the company it keeps.
    There is a faint whiff of the old cloth cap Orange Lodge toryism about her and I don’t warm to her gaze at all. There is also in her accession to MSP the distinct impression of strings being pulled in the background on her behalf all the time. If she wins the London hand will have a stronger grip on Scotland’s Tories that it had with Annabel.
    If however Murdo was to win would he really form a new,free party? A party that could declare for independence?

    I still can’t see where Murdo goes next if he doesn’t win.

    • Dave, I think your tactical nous is spot on – shame you’re not running Ms Davidson’s campaign for her!!! (I jest by the way).

      Will be interesting to see what Murdo does if he loses, very interesting…

      • Not just what Murdo does if he loses, but what the others will do if he wins. After spending the whole campaign saying Murdo’s ideas are wrong, how can the other three credibly go along with his plans? I see a split happening whatever the result.

        (http://albamatters.blogspot.com/2011/10/whether-murdo-wins-or-loses-centre.html)

        And it’s not just Murdo – what about all the people who have supported his bid? How can they continue to knock on doors, asking people to vote for a party that they themselves no longer believe in? Murdo’s opened Pandora’s Box.

        Interesting that Dave should mention Brownlee – I’d already forgotten about him, but assuming he returns to Holyrood at some point, you’d have to think he’ll be leader of his party (Tories or whatever they are called by that point!) someday. He was one of the few opposition MSPs that really stood out last time round, and it’s a shame he’s no longer in the chamber.

        As for why Margaret Mitchell has even bothered putting her hat in the ring, I’m similarly confused. While Davidson and Jackson seem intent on bashing their heads against a brick wall, Mitchell refuses to believe such a wall even exists. If Davidson and Jackson are the “no change” candidates, Mitchell seems to be a “change things back to how they were” candidate.

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