What’s next for Scottish conservative leader and rising star Ruth Davidson?

Read few comments.

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader. Credit: http://www.scottishconservatives.com/

Questions:

1. The Conservative Party was saved from even worse election result by a good performance in Scotland also thanks to Ruth Davidson. Is she a new star of Tories (maybe even a potential leader?), does she have a power to influence processes within the party?

2. Many observers are saying that, taking into account her background, it is a surprise that Davidson is successful in the Conservative Party. Do you agree, and why is she successful?

Answers:

Matthew Flinders, Professor, Director, Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. University of Sheffield

1. Yes, she was already a rising star but now she really has confirmed her position. The Scottish Conservative Leader now has far more muscle and direct influence that she had in the past but her lack of a seat at Westminster does remain something of a limitation. The question is how tightly she can control the new Scottish MPs, particularly as a counter-weight to the socially conservative views of the Democratic Unionist Party.

2. She is successful exactly because she is different. She is in a same-sex relationship and is a strong advocate of LGBT equality issues. In many ways this presents a fresh and emotionally sensitive image for the Conservative Party, especially amongst younger voters.

Neil McGarvey, Senior Teaching Fellow, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde

1. Ruth Davidson has resurrected the party in Scotland and achieved levels of representation not seen since the 1980s. 28% and the vote and 13 seats was the party’s best result in Scotland since 1983. They have now replaced Labour as Scotland’s second largest party in both the UK and Scottish Parliament. Given that Davidson advanced the party in Scotland (while the party lost seats to Labour in England) she has received many plaudits. I am unsure if she has ambitions to move to the Scottish to the UK Parliament (if she did it would take a by election or a new UK General Election for her to do so). She represents the more socially liberal wing of the Conservative Party and was a key campaigner on the Remain side of the EU Referendum – this may not make her very popular amongst the largely Leave voting English Conservative party members.

2. Davidson’s strategy has been to be the main unionist flag-bearer. Her campaign was dominated by the slogan Say no to a Second (Scottish) Independence Referendum. I think she also benefitted from the fact that Jermy Corbyn a more radical socialist than previous Labour leaders was not attractive to small c conservative Scots who may have previously voted Labour or SNP. It was a surprise that she did so well, though there was an expectation that she would pick up around 5 seats.

Thomas LundbergLecturer in Politics, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow

1. Ruth Davidson is definitely a rising star in her party, but I’m not sure how much power she has to influence policies at the centre (UK level). She will definitely try to portray herself as the most important advocate for Scotland, trying to protect Scotland’s interests by ‘softening’ the Brexit process (if that is even possible – I’m not sure) while the SNP just keeps going on about independence (which most Scottish voters don’t want to think about now).

2. Davidson is definitely not a ‘conventional’ Scottish Tory – she is female, a lesbian, young, and quite outspoken and gets to the point! These attributes are perhaps helping her to appeal to a wider audience while the more traditional Tory voters still accept her, in spite of how she differs from her predecessors. I would say, however, that’s it’s not all about leadership. The Tories made an election comeback in areas of Scotland where they used to be strong years ago, so it’s also about the attributes of the voters in those (mainly rural) areas – older and more affluent.

Malcolm Harvey, Teaching Fellow, Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

1. Ruth Davidson has been leader of the Scottish Conservatives for nearly 6 years now, so not really a ‘new star’.  However, she has risen rather dramatically to prominence over the past couple of years, first during the independence referendum, then the 2016 Scottish Parliament election (in which the Conservatives overtook Labour as the 2nd party in Scotland) and through the EU referendum to this year’s election.  However, even though the party now has 13 MPs in Scotland, she is not one of them: she remains an MSP and leader of the party’s group in the Scottish Parliament.  From a practical perspective, this gives her limited scope for manoeuvre over the MP group or to press for significant policy changes within the party.  Of course, if the 13 Scottish MPs were to act as a block, that would nullify the proposed deal with the DUP, so the wishes of the Scottish party do require consideration, but I think that influence will still be limited.

2. I’d point out that she’s hardly the first high-profile gay Conservative politician in the UK. Three of Scotland’s 5 main parties (and 4/6 if you include UKIP) have leader who are LGBT.  It might be a ‘conservative’ party, but it is operating in a broadly socially progressive context.  To that end, her background is a non-factor.

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