When a politician writes a personal book, it’s normally coded audition for the party leadership. Ruth Davidson launched book, Yes She Can, with a declaration that she didn’t want to be Prime Minister and earlier on this evening she explained why to Andrew Neil. The idea of her as leader was started by David Cameron, she said. When visiting her in Scotland, he was asked who he’d like to succeed him and pointed to her. “I’ve been dogged by that ever since,” she said, “so I thought I’d lay that to rest.” While also laying out her own politics, and the direction she’d like wants the party to take.
Why is she unfit for No10? To start with, she said, she’s a former journalist. “There’s a few journalists in politics: Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, myself. And I wouldn’t trust any of us, frankly.” In the book, she talks about mental health issues that she has overcome, but worries about a return. “I worry about being away from things that I know are good for me. I’ve built a life and a family, I’ve got my first house in Edinburgh. A child on the way. The idea of spending my entire working week 500 miles away from home and not having that support network I think would be quite difficult. And I don’t particularly want to raise my child in No10. I don’t think many parents would choose that for a very young child either.”
The audience – 700 Ruth fans – didn’t like this talk. “Sorry!” she replied. “It’s not for me. You have to give so much in the job. But to be present in my child’s life, to be able to make a good attempt to tuck them in at night – I can do all of that in Edinburgh. And there are some things that are more important than personal ambition.”
She said she doesn’t want another election, having fought six (and two referenda) in seven years. (“I’m knackered, and so are the voters.”) But one were to be held now, she said, then Corbyn would do worse because he’d be taken seriously. In last year’s snap election, she said, Corbyn “outperformed the low bar that people had set for him. But that was an election where everyone, including commentators, had written the Labour Party off. It was a free vote, because he was never going to get to No10 anyway. If you had an election now between a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party and a Theresa May-led Conservative Party then you’ll actually have people who’ll be taking the Labour Manifesto apart. Looking what the policies are. The scrutiny that comes with potentially becoming government would far outstrip anything we saw in the snap election of 2017, where people absolutely wrote off his chances and he got a free pass.”
Fighting talk. But she admitted to a bit too much of some fighting talk a few weeks ago when she was attacking Boris Johnson for his Daily Telegraph column comparing women with niqabs to bank robbers. She compared this to seeking to ban the crucifix. Neil asked her: was this not, “to use a technical term: bollocks?” She agreed. “When you talk at 100 miles an hour you do sometimes get yourself in a fangle and I did,” she said. All she had intended to say that it was a bit much to compare someone in a niqab to a bank robber. “I hold my hands up. I made an arse of that one.”
She said she is (almost) over the Brexit result. ‘I didn’t want it. But I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world if I said to Nicola for four years ‘you can’t have another independence one’, then turn around and say ‘I want one on Brexit.’
She was surprised that her book led to coverage of her, she said, as she had wanted to write about the women who are in it. Andrew Neil asked her whether she could realistically say that women in politics did things in a more civil way, given that she and Nicola Sturgeon go at it hammer and tongs in Holyrood, in a way that could not be more violent than if it were two men. “That is an argument that you could make, yes,” she said. But you don’t see ad hominem attacks that you get in Westminster.
And the advice she’d give to Theresa May is to let the public see her more. “I don’t know whether it’s English reserve or what,” she said, but the Prime Minister that she knows personally is different to that seen by the public. “I don’t think the country sees the same Theresa May as I see. She’’s got an attractive sense of humour, she has a dry wit.” And if she wants to go for another election, Ruth Davidson seems to think that she’d win her majority back.