Colonel Ruth is on manoeuvres but will she be victorious?
Ruth Davidson has been on tactical manoeuvres and her rhetoric gives the impression that one of her biggest enemies is her own party.
First, she published a blog post critical of much of the ideology of her own side and argued for a shift to something more compassionate. More recently, she publically criticised Theresa May’s immigration policy and has called for a more open approach to people coming here for study and employment.
No doubt Davidson is standing up for what she believes in but I can’t help thinking we are being played here by the public nature of her disloyalty.
It could be, as the right wing press want us to believe, that there is a rift between her and May and she has become emboldened to speak out by the PM’s weakness.
It is true that the PM has such a small majority that Davidson’s Scottish MPs have a lot of leverage over Conservative policy. Davidson also knows that most of those who voted for her in the General Election are not natural Tories. Many loaned the Tories their vote in the hope of preventing a second independence referendum.
They voted Tory this once as they think that avoiding indyref2 is the best option for Scotland in the short term. Ruth knows that in order to keep those voters she needs to be seen standing up for Scotland. This means standing up against some of the policies of her own party. Not least a damaging hard Brexit deal.
Yet, I doubt that there is a genuine rift here.
It is more likely that the rift is just for show. A decoy designed to make Ruth appear strong and to set the scene for the drama to come.
Some have questioned whether the English Tories will give Ruth what she wants. An article in the Herald this week suggested that Davidson has been rebuffed and put back in her place. Many nationalists are using this as evidence that Davidson is powerless and that those who voted Tory were fools to think Ruth would be good for Scotland. I would be careful about jumping to such conclusions. The Conservatives know they will have to give Scotland something from the Brexit process.
Could this all just be scene setting for the future moment in which Davidson is heralded as the person who ensured that Scotland got a brilliant Brexit deal?
Don’t forget, Ruth’s public disloyalty is happening alongside the talks between the Scottish and UK governments over the Brexit process. The likelihood of these talks being a success are slim. The Scottish government won’t be able to accept even a toned down Tory Brexit proposal. The talks will break down and the UK government will have to proceed to legislate without the consent of the Scottish government.
That’s where Ruth comes in.
When the talks collapse and the UK proceeds to force laws on Holyrood, they will need to frame the situation in a way that masks the blatant disrespect for Scottish sovereignty.
A story that could have been about the UK government running roughshod over the Scottish legislature will, instead, be about a Scottish government’s willingness to put Scotland’s future at risk by not accepting the deal. This is when Ruth will ride in with the cavalry just in time to save the day.
Maybe Davidson will be credited with winning a separate immigration deal for Scotland. Or lauded for returning lots of EU competencies to the Scottish Parliament. Or for negotiating a DUP like cash injection.
We have seen in recent months that the general public are not too bothered about Scotland’s lack of sovereignty, at least as long as they perceive that the country is better off controlled from London.
If Westminster did proceed without consent the majority of Scots would probably care more about the outcome rather than the action. Davidson’s fake public disobedience could be key to camouflaging the democratic outrage while making it easier to spin the result as a hard fought concession that is good for Scotland.
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