In the early days of The Independent, when the newspaper was self-consciously serious to the point of being mildly priggish, Royal events were frequently relegated to the news in brief column. This week, nodding to those sunnier days for The Independent, the happy arrival of the Duchess of Cambridge’s third child was greeted by the headline “woman gives birth to baby boy”. Well, indeed.
It is tempting to treat the news that Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, is pregnant as a matter of equally trivial non-news news. After all, as Davidson said herself in the statement she posted on Twitter announcing this cheerful development “I’m simply doing what thousands of working women do every year: having a child, taking some time off, and then returning to work soon after”. Indeed, again.
“In the meantime” she added, “it is business as usual”. I cannot imagine that any of Davidson’s constituents in Edinburgh, nor many of her supporters in the country at large, believe that her commitment to her political life will be diminished by her pregnancy. And yet it seems mildly dispiriting that she should feel it necessary to stress that her longer-term plans have not changed.
To put it another way, it would be considered a surprise if a male politician felt the need to make such a statement and, of course, I do not recall David Cameron having to do so when he and Samantha had a child while, you may remember, Cameron was serving as prime minister. The rules, which is to say the conventions, remain different for female politicians. That’s something Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, discovered after she announced her own pregnancy earlier this year. As she said, “I’m pregnant, not incapacitated”.
Equally, no-one thinks to ask male politicians who do not have children if this says anything notable about them or marks them out as unusual. You do not find magazines running cover stories on “The Rise of the Childless Man” in the manner in which, for instance, the likes of Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel have been so featured. It is possible to acknowledge differences between the sexes without insisting upon the implied differing standards applied in such circumstances.
Still, to the extent politicians are “role models” there is something cheering about politicians, and I suppose especially female politicians, demonstrating that there is no necessary contradiction between maternity and their careers. If that’s true in politics it must be true – and understood to be true – in other spheres too. Individuals will always make decisions that best suit their circumstances; the role of government – and employers – is to make it easier for individuals to make those choices in an environment where they are real, and not forced, choices.
Politics is relentless, of course, and no sooner had Davidson made her announcement than the great, eternal, question began to be asked: What Does It All Mean?
Most obviously, it means very little at all. Davidson has always told interviewers that she and her fiancee, Jen, would like a family. She has always acknowledged that, at 39 years of age, the implications of this were obvious. At least they were to them as were prepared to listen.
There has, I am afraid, been a fresh uptick in Davidson-related speculation these past few weeks. When she agreed to put her name to a new thinkish-tank for young Conservative-minded voters this was taken as fresh confirmation she must be on long-term manoeuvres. Ditto when she released a statement on the future of the fishing industry co-signed with Michael Gove. It must mean something, so it was assumed it must mean she is looking towards furthering her political career in London, not Edinburgh.
That Davidson had said nothing new and that she frequently reiterated that made little impression. People thirsting for an alternative to the current cabinet will not be put-off by anything so trivial as that. She must – surely? – hanker for the bright lights and big stage of London?
Well maybe, one day, she might. But that day is not happening any time soon. Davidson’s pregnancy has no impact on that save, perhaps, to the degree it may spare us yet more pointless – and frequently witless – speculation on her short-to-medium term future. Speculation she finds amusing sometimes, but only because the alternative is to find it infuriating.
Still, since Davidson has always spoken of starting a family so perhaps some people might reflect on the fact that just as she meant what she said in that regard so she might mean what she says when she says that Scotland, not London, is her home. And, in any case, she sill has a hefty job to do in Edinburgh. The 2021 Holyrood elections will be a full-throttle, no-quarter asked or given, affair. Davidson will fight that election. Which means, yet again, that those people south of the border who cling to the hope Davidson will move south are setting themselves up for several years of further disappointment. In any case, Davidson is not a natural dissembler and when she says she doesn’t want to be prime minister I am inclined to believe her.
In the meantime, joy and good luck to her and to Jen.