‘You wouldn’t make good spies, would you,’ chuckles Ruth Davidson as she finds us sitting with our backs to the door in the Scottish Parliament café. She then triumphantly declares that she knows who we’ve been speaking to when preparing for the interview — getting two out of the five names isn’t bad going. After this, she sets off for her office at a pace that leaves us and her communications director trailing in her wake. She scrolls impatiently through her phone as she waits for us to catch up at every security door.
Davidson is as direct as she is energetic. When the editor begins by pointing out the state of the Tories when he left Scotland 15 years ago, Davidson cracks back, ‘Did you leave your accent behind?’ This is her style: in your face and eager to throw you off balance. She has certainly thrown Scottish politics off balance. From years of being an irrelevance, she has made the Scottish Tories the official opposition at Holyrood. As one UK Cabinet member puts it: ‘I never thought I’d live to see the day where England only has a Tory government due to gains in Scotland.’ This is the brightest spot in a year of disappointment for the Tories, and why she is fast becoming the party’s new darling.
Now it’s England’s turn to wonder how a hollowed-out Tory party can survive. Davidson is seen as having done a Lazarus on the Scottish Conservatives. What was her secret? She acknowledges that the independence referendum was key, allowing, as it did, the Tories to play the Union card. But her main tactic, she says, was to stop apologising. ‘The party did go round saying “I’m sorry I’m a Conservative but…” and my argument was that we had to completely change the way in which we held ourselves.