After an amazing revival by the Conservative party in Scotland, leader Ruth Davidson deserves all the accolades. An intrepid fox (can I say vixen?), Ruth has repeatedly bitten the arrogant SNP establishment, gnawing on its flawed domestic policies and its divisive nationalism. Although she made a massive contribution to saving the United Kingdom in the referendum in 2014, few could have expected the gains her Tories made in the elections on Thursday. Now she leads the official opposition at Holyrood, but she did not achieve this alone.
It’s hard to believe now that Scotland was once a sea of blue. In the 1950s Labour was restricted to the central industrial belt, while the Tories ruled Ayr, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the vast swaths of farmland, grouse country and windswept isles. The rot set in with the manufacturing decline of the 1970s and 1980s, which Margaret Thatcher refused to prolong by throwing good money after bad. A few seats like that of my home town, Gourock, maintained a Conservative presence, but in the 1997 election the Conservatives were wiped out. Since then they have managed to salvage some pride by holding the old county of Dumfries.
The solitary Westminster seat in Scotland is occupied by David Mundell, who achieved a remarkable feat in the 2015 General Election by not only stopping the SNP juggernaut, but drawing unrestrained delight in a normally unsympathetic BBC reporter for winning against all the odds. Mundell is one of the least-known Cabinet members, where he sits as Scottish Secretary (who else?). In appearance he is the archetypal Tory minister: staid, well-nourished and crisply-spoken. The type who would know what to say in a given situation, but hardly inspirational. Yet looks deceive. Mundell (also gay) is a truly effective operator in Scottish and UK politics, who is at home with dairy farmers as the cultured diners of Mayfair or Morningside. From his constituency straddling Hadrian’s Wall, he sees no categorical division between Scots and Sassenachs. But Mundell could never have led the Scots Tories back to being a major force.
While much had been promised of Ruth Davidson, the openly gay (and thus ‘modern’) party leader, the long-promised revival was elusive. Since succeeding Annabel Goldie (once my local MP) as Scottish Conservative leader in 2011, the road has been rocky. The Tories had fallen into a Cairngorms crevasse, but Mundell began the arduous climb. His understated presence and his considered input to high office has been a vital foothold for Davidson as she ascends a political mountainside. The once dominant Labour regime has been toppled by the SNP, but now they too must be wary. In 2020 Mundell should have new friends on the green benches, as unstoppable Ruth wins back Ayr, Edinburgh, Aberdeen – and Gourock.