Ruth Davidson: “David Cameron is not my boss”

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by a Newsnet reporter 

In an attempt to assert an identity distinct from that of the Conservatives south of the Border, Ruth Davidson, the new leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, insisted at a press conference on Saturday that Prime Minister David Cameron was not her boss.

by a Newsnet reporter

In an attempt to assert an identity distinct from that of the Conservatives south of the Border, Ruth Davidson, the new leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, insisted at a press conference on Saturday that Prime Minister David Cameron was not her boss.

Ms Davidson was narrowly elected leader of the demoralised Conservatives after a bitter and acrimonious leadership election in which her main rival, Murdo Fraser, promised to scrap the “tainted brand” saying that the Conservatives in Scotland were “not fit for purpose” and were “toxic”.  Mr Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said that if elected he would form a new centre-right Scottish party which would be independent of the Conservatives, but allied to them in the Westminster Parliament.  

Mr Fraser attracted the support of 11 of the party’s MSPs and a number of prominent Conservatives including Malcolm Rifkind.  In the ballot of party members, Mr Fraser received just 500 votes less than Ms Davidson.  

Ms Davidson rejected concerns that some of Mr Fraser’s supporters may break away to form a rival centre right party and insisted that the party would now pull together.  The new Tory leader’s comments yesterday will be seen as an attempt to reassure Mr Fraser’s supporters that Ms Davidson’s team will put ‘clear blue water’ between the Scottish party and its counterpart elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  

Ms Davidson said: “While David Cameron is my Prime Minister, when he comes to Scotland he’s not my boss, we’re colleagues.”

The new Conservative leader stressed that the party would adopt policies which were distinctly Scottish and implied that she would not be afraid to disagree with Mr Cameron, saying: “I’ll be making a vision that is right for Scotland, right for the Scottish Conservatives, and I hope very much to work with our Prime Minister.

“But if he needs a quiet tap on the shoulder, then I’m just the girl to do it.”

Ms Davidson announced the appointment of the party’s sole Westminster MP, David Mundell, as interim party chairman.  Mr Mundell will chair a review of the party’s structure.  

However the appointment of Mr Mundell may prove to be an error, as he is a divisive figure within the party who alienated a number of Conservative MSPs and party members during the leadership race.  Mr Mundell broke ministerial neutrality and came out against Murdo Fraser’s plan to scrap the old party and start again when he slammed Mr Fraser’s plans for a new party and said he would refuse to stand as a candidate for it.

Commenting on Mr Mundell’s appointment, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said: “Instead of seeking to build bridges after a deeply divisive leadership contest, Ruth Davidson has – by appointing Mr Mundell – given a slapdown to Fraser and the 45 per cent of party members who supported him by appointing the man who tried to blackmail the party into voting for Davidson by refusing to stand for a potential new party.

“This is an immediate backwards step for the Tories.”

The Conservatives in Scotland face serious challenges.  Over large parts of the country they are electorally irrelevant, a humiliating fall for a party which in the 1950s achieved an absolute majority of the Scottish popular vote.  The party was wiped out in the Westminster elections of 1997, and has since managed to recover only a single Westminster seat.  

The party retains a presence in the Scottish Parliament thanks only to the list seat system, which they had opposed.  Ms Davidson was elected to the Scottish Parliament on a mere 1,900 votes as a list member for Glasgow.  She has yet to articulate clear policies which will bring about a revival in Conservative fortunes, and many prominent members of her party supported a rival leadership candidate who claimed that the Conservative cause is already a lost one.  

Ms Davidson is politically inexperienced and has been an MSP for just a few months.  She will now find herself up against seasoned political campaigners like Alex Salmond.  Although she brings a fresh face and a new image to the party, many feel that that Ms Davidson is merely superficially unconventional and has no new ideas which will bring about a reversal of the Conservatives’ long decline.  

It is believed that amongst its first priorities Conservatives intend to launch a recruitment drive to boost its ageing membership.  Membership of the party has declined catastrophically over the past 25 years as the Scots have abandoned the Conservatives.  As recently as 2006 the party was believed to have over 16,500 members.  However registered membership now stands at a half of that figure.  During the leadership election, around 8,500 ballot papers were sent out.  A mere 5,600 members voted in the leadership election, a figure which gives a more accurate assessment of the party’s current active membership.