Ruth Davidson was reluctant to say very much when she accepted the Scottish Conservative
leadership this afternoon, insisting only that she wants to build up Tory party membership north of the border. But she knows – and all those around her know too – that membership
levels are the least of her problems. Ms Davidson faces one of the most intractable puzzles in British politics: how to get Scots to vote Tory again.
Everyone involved in Conservative politics north of the border knows the significance of 1955 – that was the year the Tories (and their allies) won a majority of both seats and votes in
Scotland. Since then, the road for the Conservatives has been steadily and inexorably downhill. The party has not had more than one MP this century and in 1997 it was famously wiped off the
electoral map in Scotland. So what does Ms Davidson have that others, who have gone before her, do not?
For a start she is young (32 years old), she is feisty, smart, charismatic and a product of the media age (she was in television before turning to politics). She is also openly gay and while that
will never win her many votes on its own, her election demonstrates a modern worldliness on behalf of the Scottish Tories that the party, frankly, has never been known for in the past.
But she is also inexperienced. And while that may have some advantages in that Ms Davidson is unlikely to be jaded with cynicism or caught up in petty in-fighting, she has not been around long
enough to know the pitfalls of party leadership. Her first task, therefore, is to surround herself with experienced, able politicians, people who can show her the traps ahead and help her to avoid
them while she finds her feet. And, in that regard, she has to find a place near the top of the Scottish Tory Party for Murdo Fraser.
Mr Fraser lost out to Ms Davidson by 2,983 votes to 2,417 in this afternoon’s membership ballot, after the second-choice votes had been allocated from the two bottom candidates Jackson Carlaw
and Margaret Mitchell. Mr Fraser wanted to disband the Scottish Conservative Party and start a new centre right party in its place. He was defeated and so was his radical plan. However, he
attracted the support of more than two thousand members, of former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and of a majority of the party’s MSPs.
This is not something, therefore, that can be forgotten or swept away. There is a real issue here and Ms Davidson has to show she understands the concerns that led to such a big show of support for
Mr Fraser’s idea. That means that she has to come up with a proper plan to revitalise the party north of the border (something other than expanding the membership) because, unless she does,
then Mr Fraser’s warning that the party is dying off will come to pass. She also has to come up with a coherent plan to save the Union from the wrecking ball of Alex Salmond’s
independence referendum and that will not be easy.
When he launched his campaign, Mr Fraser compared the Scottish Conservative Party to the Titanic. “It’s not a new captain we need,” he said, “It’s a new ship.”
Well, the party voted for a new captain not a new ship but no-one knows as yet whether the new captain will be able to do what none of her predecessors managed to do, and that is steer the rather
battered and ramshackle old vessel that is the Scottish Tory party to safety.