Roger Scully

Ruth Davidson’s success could come at a price for the union

As in 2017, the Prime Minister decided to spend some of her Easter break enjoying a walking holiday with her husband in Wales. It is very unlikely that this year’s mini-holiday will be followed by a similar decision as was last year’s: to hold an early general election. The failure of the Conservative campaign in that election, and the consequent shock loss of the party’s parliamentary majority, have dogged Theresa May’s government and party ever since.

Of course there is one part of the UK where the 2017 Tory election campaign was not a failure. In both England and Wales the Conservatives suffered a net loss of seats, rather than the sweeping gains that had appeared overwhelmingly likely in the days after the Prime Minister’s surprise announcement. But in Scotland it was all very different. There, the party gained twelve seats: giving them more than a single MP for the first time since 1992, and taking the Scottish Tories to their highest parliamentary representation since the Thatcherite high water-mark of 1983.

A big part of the reason for the different fate of the Scottish Conservatives appears to have been that their election campaign was not led by Theresa May. Rather than depending on the misfiring Maybot, Tories north of the border had their own champion. Front and centre of the campaign throughout was Ruth Davidson. Scotland had been rather slow to warm to the charms of the media-savvy figure who has led the Tories there since autumn 2011. In 2015, in the face of the SNP’s electoral tidal wave, Davidson presided over her party’s worst general election vote share on record – falling below fifteen per cent. But the following year, after a campaign which had played up Davidson and very much downplayed the Conservative brand, the Tories bounced back at the Scottish Parliament election: for the first time ever they came second at a devolved election, ahead of the once all-conquering Scottish Labour.

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