John McLellan: Here’s the inside scoop on how Ruth turned tide

Ruth Davidson on the campaign trail which eventually delivered 13 Scottish Tory MPs. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Davidson on the campaign trail which eventually delivered 13 Scottish Tory MPs. Picture: John Devlin
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It is a new but not uncommon criticism amongst political opponents and sceptical commentators that Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is a one-trick pony who needs the second independence referendum for her continued success.

Among them was my former colleague and long-serving Evening News political editor, the venerable Ian Swanson, who suggested that the only weapon in her armoury was opposition to a second independence referendum and that the true test of a Scottish Conservative revival would be when the party started talking about other policies.

Adam McVey. left, and Labour group leader Cammy Day sign the coalition agreement at the City Chambers. Picture: Greg Macvean

Adam McVey. left, and Labour group leader Cammy Day sign the coalition agreement at the City Chambers. Picture: Greg Macvean

It’s certainly true that Indyref2 has dominated Scottish politics since the Brexit vote, as Remainers like me predicted it would, but those circumstances were not of Davidson’s making and nor was the reaction to it from thousands of people on the doorsteps in both the local government and general elections.

Davidson may well have been the right politician at the right time (which successful politician isn’t?) but there is plenty evidence going back to the start of her leadership that she was aware of the need to bring forward new policies as well as campaign against independence.

So although the main focus at that time was on developing her plans for further devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament, her speeches also contained domestic policy ideas which if they were mentioned in the media at all, it was only in passing.

As far back as 2012, she was advocating reform of Air Passenger Duty, something which was approved by MSPs only this week. The following year she proposed strengthening the rights of tenants in private rented accommodation, again something which in principle at least was included in Scottish Government legislation.

Education has always been a strong suit and she has called for reforms in vocational training, the expansion of free childcare, and the ideas developed by Liz Smith for empowering headteachers have also found their way into John Swinney’s schools programme announced last week.

Along the way she set up commissions to look at rural issues and taxation to feed into a policy programme designed to beef up the manifesto process going into the 2015 General Election and 2016 Scottish Elections.

But for much of that early period Davidson didn’t have what political anoraks like to call “permission to be heard”. In other words people weren’t listening. The tide started to turn with a well-received main stage speech at the 2013 Conservative conference in Manchester but victory in the 2014 referendum didn’t translate into seats in 2015.

But the SNP landslide and Labour disarray, combined with prominence in the EU referendum campaign, galvanised Unionist support around her and two huge election successes were the result. Knowing she now has the right to be heard is partly why she had the confidence to demand a different path for Brexit to that of a stricken Prime Minster and from only a day of EU negotiations already it looks like she is on the right side of the argument.

Her understanding and concentration on what cuts through has perhaps led to the one-trick pony jibe, but it’s also why she would have had no truck with the complacency which wrecked the UK manifesto. Now it’s not so much a case of whether Davidson can develop a credible programme for administration, but whether a Labour recovery will halt the advance.

The love that dare now speak its name

The love which dared not speak its name since May 5 has finally been blessed by the Labour Party’s national executive and having successfully fought the general election on a ticket of “Only Labour can stop the SNP” Ian Murray MP’s chums in the City Chambers have duly put the Nationalists in administration.

Administration but not quite power, because with 31 seats between them and one short of a majority, the Nat-Lab coalition will still need help to guarantee their programme gets through, most probably from the Greens.

Today sees the third meeting of the full Edinburgh Council since the election, yet it will not be until next Thursday that the real business of administering the city can begin – the day before the July recess. The first job this morning will be to elect a deputy convener, number two to the Lord Provost, which will almost certainly be Lezley Cameron, who we might presume will have to be dragged to the chair given a month ago she refused the nomination from my group to be Lord Provost and opened the door for the SNP’s Frank Ross.

Then the “Only Labour can stop the SNP” councillors will be expected to dutifully vote for Adam McVey as council leader, although it will be fun seeing how many of them actually do so. It’s an open secret that several are unhappy with the arrangement and may abstain, knowing the Greens will support the appointment.

Christmas is coming for city turkeys

It’s the opposite of turkeys voting for Christmas; today Edinburgh councillors get to decide how many main committees they need.

The choice is five or six, but the options take some understanding. For example, sport is in with education in one plan and health and social care in the other, while economic development tosses up between housing or culture.

As for the number of councillors, the recommendation is for 13 for five committees and 11 for six. Labour (two), Greens (two) and Lib Dems (one) get the same under both, so with six committees of 11 members the smaller parties increase their influence. And more committees means more office bearers and that means more responsibility money.

Who’d vote for less?

Widows is in the firing line

Alarm bells will be sounding at Lloyds Banking Group’s possible sale of Scottish Widows to Standard Life, with unification of the two Edinburgh insurance giants bound to cost jobs. Lloyds wants to offload Widows because tougher post-crash regulations penalise it for owning an insurer.

Standard Life, soon to become Standard Life Aberdeen after this week’s approval of the merger with Aberdeen Asset Management, played down the speculation, but the future of Widows and its 3500 staff is now undeniably uncertain. Absorption by SLA would mean the loss of yet another big Scottish financial corporation, but it might make for a stronger global competitor.