John McLellan: Too many hurdles on Ruth’s route to No.10

Ruth Davidson is being tipped to take over from Theresa May. Picture: PA
Ruth Davidson is being tipped to take over from Theresa May. Picture: PA
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It was a strong, honest speech, with key policy announcements, but will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Despite the strength of character the Prime Minster showed in dealing with adversity, her conference speech will not end the speculation about her future.

Nor is the encouragement for Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to pack her bags for Westminster likely to reduce, with a prominent article yesterday by Tory peer Lord Finkelstein laying out a route map for her entry to No.10 shortly after the next Scottish Parliament elections.

Former Labour MP Nigel Griffiths

Former Labour MP Nigel Griffiths

“You can’t go anywhere at the conference without getting involved in a discussion about Ruth Davidson,” wrote Finkelstein in yesterday’s Times.

“She has charisma and wit and is a natural on television, the conference stage and social media. She has remarkably few political enemies in the Tory Party. She is likeable enough that she may stop Labour moderates from feeling they have to stick to Corbyn just to keep her out.”

The image of an effervescent, energetic Ruth will inevitably be juxtaposed in many minds with the coughing, struggling Theresa.

As Finkelstien acknowledges, the problem is she’s not available, and what is more the very act of making herself available would tarnish the essential quality which makes her what she is, her authenticity.

It is true that her popularity far outweighs the party’s and when I meet people who know I worked for her, the first question is always. “What’s she really like?” to which the answer is always “Exactly what you see on the television.”

And on television she has repeatedly said she has a job to do in Scotland and that her goal is to be First Minister. Sure, she has made no commitment beyond that, but in the public mind that means she doesn’t just want to win the title but do the job too.

She has never given any hint that her commitment to leading the biggest party at Holyrood is anything other than total, so the Finkelstein plan in which she fights the next Scottish election and then finds a Westminster seat to take over as leader in 2022 falls on several counts.

No enemies? That would last about five minutes if her intentions changed. Become First Minister and then walk away months later? Then her previous pledge looks hollow. Fail to become First Minister in 2021? Then this year’s unquestioned success will feel distanced and her hard-won reputation as a winner would lose some of its shine.

Then there is the small matter of winning a first-past-the-post seat. Despite this year’s victories, none of the Conservative seats in Scotland can be considered in any way safe and again she has repeatedly said she has no desire to move south.

Edinburgh is her home, she has just bought a house in the east of the city and as June’s results showed a lot more work is needed to secure a city seat. The other parties would do all in their power to make sure she didn’t win, as happened to Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, but go and fight somewhere like Henley and she risks looking like just another carpet-bagger. Nothing is impossible, but for the future, the UK party should be thinking more about finding the next Ruth Davidson and maybe the best person to do that is Ruth herself.

Not an entirely Scottish solution

The Scottish Government will tomorrow reveal its new approach to helping disadvantaged people back into work under its “Creating a fairer Scotland” initiative. It affects a complex network of charities across the country providing vital support services, and in what has been a difficult tendering process there will be winners and losers.

Such services were run on a UK-wide basis until employability was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in April this year, and the Scottish Government set out to find new solutions. And not without good reason because those close to the system say the success rate of keeping people in work for over a year is running at less than 10 per cent.

Insiders fear that having set out to create a new Scottish system, what will be announced tomorrow will instead just be a continuation of the old UK-wide approach.

I understand one of the big winners is set to be a UK-wide charity called Working Links which rents an office in St Colme Street in the New Town and has been part of the UK government’s Work Choice system.

But one of the losers is set to be an Edinburgh-based charity, Into Work, which has a strong relationship with the city council, employs 30 people from its Albion Road base and has a success rate of around 35 per cent for keeping people with long-term conditions and disabilities, like brain injury and autism, in work for over a year.

Scottish solutions for Scottish problems? Not this time.

Recognisably out of the council picture

Out of touch or out of place? Yesterday’s man? Or maybe one of those horrible moments when the face is familiar but the name doesn’t quite spring to mind? Word reaches me about an encounter involving former Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths at a City Chambers gathering last week, but I’ll leave readers to make up their own minds.

Doing his best Queen impression, “And what is it you do in this organisation?” the ex-Labour junior minister asked the casually-dressed young man.

“I’m the leader,” replied Adam McVey. But he didn’t know who Griffiths was either.

Add ageism to hate crimes list

Such merry banter is often to be had most Sundays at youth football matches and last weekend was no exception. No names, no pack drill, but my son was considering whether he required a bodyguard, Laura Kuenssberg-style, after being told by members of the opposition that the “Young Leith Mental Team” would be coming to get him.

Whoever they are, they are hardly going to come across town, I pointed out afterwards. “They travel,” he said.

Back to the action, when one young chap body-checked and flattened one of our players and the referee produced the yellow card. I perhaps unwisely laughed when a spectator yelled “Yellie? He never touched him.” And then growled at me, “Whit are you sayin’ ya old t**t.”

Shouldn’t ageism be one of those new football hate crimes? The Scottish Government must be told.

Gaelic can wait, teaching can’t

At a time when some Edinburgh schools are so short of teachers that suitably qualified parents are being asked to lend a hand, now might not be the best time to launch a bid to extend the teaching of all subjects in Gaelic. If there aren’t enough English-speaking physics, maths and business studies teachers to go around, then what chance is there of finding people to explain quadratic equations in the Language of Eden, as it’s known? Edinburgh’s latest Gaelic Language Plan is now open to consultation until December and as many people as possible should contribute. A priority or not? Let the council know.