Ruth Davidson quits as leader of Scottish Tories

Ruth Davidson has today announced she will resign as Scottish Tory leader after eight years as she admitted her political career had taken a toll on her personal life.   

In an impassioned letter the mother-of-one said in trying to be a good leader she had ‘proved a poor daughter, sister, partner and friend’. 

She admitted that while spending hours on the road and away from home once ‘fired her up’ it now ‘filled her with dread’.

The rising Tory star, who is credited with masterminding the party’s revival north of the Border, has been an outspoken critic of both Boris Johnson and Brexit. 

But she neither criticises nor praises the Prime Minister in her letter, saying only she has, ‘not hidden the conflict I have felt over Brexit’.  

The 40-year-old, who was touted as a future leader of the UK Conservatives until she explicitly ruled out taking on the post, will continue as MSP for Edinburgh Central until 2021. 

Sources last night insisted Miss Davidson’s decision to go was not directly related to Mr Johnson’s election as Tory leader or his controversial decision to suspend Parliament next month.

But they acknowledged that concerns about a No Deal Brexit were a factor, along with the toll that the leadership has taken on her personal life at a time when she is caring for her first child, Finn, who was born in October.  

Miss Davidson’s departure does however deal a bitter blow to Mr Johnson’ s hopes of securing a majority at the next election, which could come within weeks.  

Ruth Davidson has today announced she will resign as Scottish Tory leader

She neither criticises nor praises Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the letter, saying only she has, 'not hidden the conflict I have felt over Brexit'

She neither criticises nor praises Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the letter, saying only she has, ‘not hidden the conflict I have felt over Brexit’

Ruth Davidson penned this letter to the party chairman today

Ruth Davidson penned this letter to the party chairman today 

The rising Tory star, who is credited with masterminding the party's revival north of the Border, has been an outspoken critic of both Boris Johnson and Brexit

The rising Tory star, who is credited with masterminding the party’s revival north of the Border, has been an outspoken critic of both Boris Johnson and Brexit

The ‘tough old bird’ who became a tour de force in Scottish politics

Credited with transforming the party’s image north of the border since taking charge, Ruth Davidson has been described as an energetic campaigner and colourful on-screen character.

Ms Davidson took her first steps towards a life in politics when she joined the Tories in 2009, having previously worked as a journalist.

The 2011 Scottish Parliament elections saw her take a seat from the Glasgow region list.

Two months later, the then-party leader Annabel Goldie announced she would quit the post and Ms Davidson stood for the position.

The self-proclaimed ‘tough old bird’ won the election and became party leader in November that year, gaining 2,278 first preference votes out of the 5,676 cast.

Since then, she has widely been credited with changing the party’s image to being more socially liberal, supporting LGBT rights and favouring extending same-sex marriage equality to Northern Ireland.

Ms Davidson was at the helm during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which finished with the No side winning by 55% to 45%.

The 2016 Holyrood elections saw the Scottish Conservative Party position itself as the main unionist party, in which it gained the second-highest number of seats in parliament.

She had switched to the Edinburgh Central constituency for that vote.

During the campaign she rode a buffalo, played ice hockey, pulled pints and drove a crane.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, she supported remaining in the EU, but after the result she called for a soft withdrawal.

The former Territorial Army signaller has publicly said she would not support a no-deal exit from the EU.

Ms Davidson has also received praise for overseeing the Scottish Conservatives going from one MP to 13 in the 2017 General Election.

Her 2018 memoirs revealed she struggled with her mental health as a teenager, citing that as a reason she would not stand to be UK Conservative Party leader.

The Dunfermline Athletic fan had often been tipped to take up the post.

In October last year, she gave birth to a baby boy with her partner Jen Wilson.

At the time, she said she did not believe having a child would impact her political career and her pregnancy would show it was normal for same-sex couples to have children.

Ms Davidson supported Jeremy Hunt to succeed Theresa May as party leader in July 2019.

She said she would judge Boris Johnson on his time in office as Prime Minister, but admitted the two had clashed on issues such as Brexit. 

Last month, Miss Davidson clashed with Mr Johnson over Brexit and warned that she did not accept his strategy going forward.

‘I don’t think the Government should pursue a No Deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won’t support it,’ she said at the time.

Last night, she told the Scottish Daily Mail the party was in ‘great shape’ in Scotland, adding: ‘I understand the speculation surrounding my leadership and I will be making my position clear later today.

‘Those of us who are lucky enough to serve in political leadership accept the toll it takes, but there’s a part of us which can never accept the effect it has on family and friends too.’ 

Miss Davidson’s direct style and charismatic personality were credited with turning around the Tory party’s moribund fortunes in Scotland and delivering 13 MPs at the last election, which proved crucial in keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street.

Downing Street sources acknowledged that the timing of Miss Davidson’s departure was ‘not ideal’ as Mr Johnson is trying to keep the party united behind his strategy of taking Britain out of the European Union on October 31 come what may.

Her resignation will fuel concerns that Mr Johnson has a ‘Scottish problem’ which could cost the Conservatives at any upcoming election. 

This comes as Lord Young of Cookham resigned as a whip in the House of Lords after the Prime Minister announced he was proroguing Parliament for an extended period, a Government source confirmed this morning.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, a close ally of Miss Davidson, last night said: ‘Ruth Davidson is a wonderful talent and person, and we owe her a tremendous debt for turning our fortunes around in Scotland.

‘Our party is a better one with her in it and I hope she will continue to contribute to public life.’ Miss Davidson had dreamed of becoming Scotland’s first post-devolution Tory leader.

The ambition had led her to resist pressure from Tory moderates to relocate to Westminster and seek the party’s national leadership.

It is understood that Miss Davidson made her mind up to stand down on Tuesday and had begun making preparations to hold a press conference to announce her decision, which will go ahead as planned today.

She was heavily opposed to Mr Johnson becoming leader and backed three of his rivals in the leadership contest.

She was also one of the most prominent Remain campaigners and went up against Mr Johnson in a head-to-head debate in the final week of the EU referendum campaign in June 2016. 

A senior source said that her decision was ‘not in the least’ down to Mr Johnson entering Downing Street, or his decision yesterday to announce that he is controversially suspending Parliament in the run-up to Britain leaving the EU at the end of October.

The source said: ‘This is for a mixture of personal reasons and political reasons, but it is not connected at all to [yesterday’s] events.

‘She has found that, as a leading Remainer, she has had a conflict over the whole issue of Brexit which has not made it easy for her in her role as Scottish Conservative leader.

‘But it is absolutely not to do with the personality of the Prime Minister.’

Miss Davidson had not spoken to either Mr Johnson or most of her elected politicians prior to rumours of her departure first breaking last night.

Ruth Davidson pictured in September when she was eight months pregnant, with her partner Jen Wilson. Sources said the pressure of motherhood has contributed to her decision

Ruth Davidson pictured in September when she was eight months pregnant, with her partner Jen Wilson. Sources said the pressure of motherhood has contributed to her decision

Born into privilege? No, just hard work and gut instinct: STEPHEN DAISLEY on Ruth Davidson’s rise to the top

Ruth Davidson: A tactical thinker but an instinctual politician who leads from the gut

Ruth Davidson: A tactical thinker but an instinctual politician who leads from the gut

Ruth Davidson was never destined for greatness, her trajectory guided by an invisible hand of history like some politicians’ careers seem to be.

Everything she has achieved, she has achieved through hard graft and determination. Everything she has done, for good and for ill, has been shaped by a personal ethic that has shaped her Toryism more than any volume of Burke or Hayek. She is a tactical thinker but an instinctual politician who leads from the gut.

Her gut now tells her it is time to bow out. After eight years as an MSP and leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Davidson has now resigned. 

Sources in her camp say the pressures of new motherhood have aggravated her disillusionment with the direction of her party at Westminster.

Baby Finn will turn one in October and 40-year-old Davidson intends to marry his other mother, her partner Jen Wilson. Those joyous pressures have been amplified by the unwelcome arrival, from Davidson’s perspective, of Boris Johnson in No 10. With him he has brought the prospect of no-deal Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament to that end.

Davidson reached the height of her political abilities only for her own party to take her legs out from under her. Now, she can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the rewards and trials of a normal family life.

For her party, however, an ominous question mark had formed overhead. Is there life in the Scottish Conservatives after Ruth Davidson?

The query arises because she was not another run-of-the-mill leader who put on a brave face and managed the party’s decline. She was transformative, resurrecting a political force long thought spent and reshaping Scottish politics in the process. She may not have been destined for greatness but she has made her name and earned her reputation as a political star.

To understand Ruth Davidson, you have to understand where she comes from. She was not born into privilege as so many prominent Tories are. There was no boarding school, no father with connections at Westminster or in the City. Nor is she a horny-handed daughter of toil reared on tales from the pit or the picket, like Labour giants of old.

Her upbringing was and her character is unsatisfyingly middle-class, lower or average depending on your perspective. Her dad, Douglas, is a former Partick Thistle player turned businessman and he and his wife Liz raised Davidson in Selkirk and later Fife. She attended Buckhaven High School, a bog-standard comprehensive which boasted the motto Perseverando – ‘persevering’.

That sums up Davidson well. She has always been persevering, whether in recovering from the broken back that ended her Army Reserves career, or working as a shop assistant after the radio station she broadcast on suddenly went into liquidation, or becoming the gay leader of a traditionalist political party, or in defying her critics to restore the Scottish Conservatives after more than a generation in the wilderness.

Adversity has never been far from her path but she has met it with tenacity and good humour.

Perseverance serves as a useful shorthand for Davidson’s brand of conservatism. She is well-read but not an intellectual Tory, her worldview formed by theory or philosophy. Her upbringing instilled in her the values of hard work, discipline, personal responsibility and self-starting ambition. This, rather than any polling data or shifting political fashion, is why she is a blue-collar Conservative.

She rejects the Left-wing characterisation of the Right as the Praetorian Guard of privilege and believes that the ordered liberty of free markets and the rule of law protects the interests of working- and middle-class people better than socialism.

There is a no-nonsense air to Davidson; she can be a very hard woman, though women in politics often have to be. This toughness is not an affectation – it emerges from her plainspoken politics.

One of her political heroes is John Howard, the former Australian prime minister who was also a blue-collar Right-winger, also underestimated by his opponents and the commentariat, and whose gnarly persona helped him connect with working-class voters who had never voted for his party before.

Howard once floored Kim Beazley, a well-meaning Labor leader from a vaunted Australian political dynasty, with the charge that he ‘doesn’t have the ticker for it’. It was an Aussie-ism that cut through with ordinary voters who seldom paid attention to politics and made the debate one of personal character. Davidson sometimes cites it as one of her favourite political moments.

Personal grit has been in Davidson’s blood from the start but she has been hardened by struggle. The death of a teenage friend sent her into ‘a total tailspin’ and she began cutting her arms and stomach with shards of glass and knives. She punched walls, roiled with constant anger, and started to abuse alcohol. Her GP diagnosed her with depression but her prescribed medication only exacerbated her problems.

As an English literature student at Edinburgh University, she avoided sleep and lived a largely nocturnal life. The depression, she later reflected, ‘was like a smothering black blanket over my head, cutting out the sky… It was heavy, constricting, suffocating. It took away hope and energy and life.’

Last year, she became one of the first senior British politicians to speak openly about her battle with mental ill-health. She credits exercise, limited alcohol intake and her Christian faith with helping her recovery.

Davidson was already a trailblazer as an openly gay woman, the first to lead a major political party in the UK. At first she strained to break free from the label ‘lesbian kickboxer’ but eventually she relaxed into her position as the face of the modern Tory Party and her newfound status as role model for gay youngsters coming to terms with their sexuality.

In February 2015, she appeared in a groundbreaking party election broadcast which featured her partner Jen, updating the Conservative message on family values for the 21st century.

Last October, she gave birth to son Finn, with partner Jen by her side. In a testament to how much her example had changed Right-wing attitudes about personal morality, one of the first to congratulate the new mother was Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP.

That the head of Northern Ireland’s most God-fearing party would celebrate the birth of a child to the unmarried leader of the Scottish Tories and her Irish Catholic girlfriend would have been unthinkable before Davidson entered politics. Things change and she deserves credit for helping to bring about changes like these.

The birth of Finn reinforced Davidson’s affinity for the NHS, another instinct that set her apart from many of her fellow Tories. She revealed her experience of the health service as an expectant mother, quipping: ‘There is a special feeling of wanting the earth to swallow you whole when you are led in a hospital gown to the room where an internal examination is going to take place by a nurse who decides to strike up a conversation with: ‘I saw you on the telly last night, talking about the NHS’.’

The NHS is in Davidson’s bones, quite literally. Aged five, she was run over by a truck outside the family home and taken to hospital. She credits the doctors with saving her life and her legs. Years later, when she was serving as a signaller in 32 Signal Regiment of the Army Reserve, she broke her back in a training accident at Sandhurst. Once again, the NHS patched her up and ensured she would walk again.

As Davidson reflected in a speech at Glasgow University last year: ‘The NHS, the best expression of our country’s values that we have, is the foundation of this country’s social contract. And if we don’t ensure it is put on a sustainable footing over the coming years, we won’t just suffer as patients – we will see faith in that contract collapse completely.’

This is who Davidson is as a politician and a person but it is not what she is best known for. The Scottish Conservatives are losing a leader but the Union is also losing its hardiest, most energetic champion.

Davidson came into her own as a political leader during the 2014 independence referendum. This 5ft 5in firecracker exploded onto the national scene, going toe-to-toe with the Nationalists and matching their passion for independence with a heartfelt belief in the Union. Davidson is not a nationalist but she understands how they think because she is a patriot.

Where they see Scotland as a victim held back by Westminster, she sees the UK as a sacred trust between nations and people that at its best can be a force for good at home and overseas.

Yet again we arrive at another Davidson peculiarity: she is a Tory optimist. Her efforts in 2014 contributed to the defeat of nationalism and when the SNP refused to accept the outcome, Davidson stepped up her campaign and in the process became a largely one-issue politician.

Labour having abandoned its pro-Union stance in vain hope of winning back voters who had switched to the SNP, Davidson was free to reinvent herself and her party as the guardians of the Union. This allowed her to appeal to those ordinarily hostile to the Tories but who grasped the menace of nationalism.

Davidson embraced her new role as Boudica in a power suit and basked in the confidence it gave her. During one Holyrood debate on Indyref 2, Nicola Sturgeon attempted to interrupt Davidson, who snapped ‘sit down’ at her opposite number. The debating chamber emptied of air and sound as a stunned Sturgeon resumed her seat. The rules of the game had changed. It was about more than rhetoric, though. Davidson took a defibrillator to the Scottish Tories and returned the party to rude health in the face of much disdainful blather from the commentariat.

The 2016 Holyrood election saw the Tories double their representation from 15 to 31, supplanting Labour as the main opposition. Even then, her detractors denied the evidence in front of them and were again proved wrong in the following year’s General Election.

A month before polling day, one of Davidson’s more self-assured critics complained to readers of a London-based magazine that the media was ‘talking up a Tory surge in Scotland’ when, he averred, ‘the Conservatives will increase their seats tally from one to four with a fair wind. Maybe seven if 8 June 2017 is a very good night’. One month later, the voters sent 13 Scottish Tory MPs to Westminster.

In politics, the efforts of many are often ascribed to the toil of one figurehead. In the case of the Scottish Tory revival, however, Davidson transformed her party as much by the force of her personality as by the quality of the candidates it now fielded.

What Davidson could not control was the divergent political ambitions of others. The Right of the Tory Party had made the UK’s withdrawal from the EU its crusade and when it convinced a narrow majority of the country in 2016’s referendum, Davidson was thrown into conflict with her party. Scotland overwhelmingly voted Remain and Brexit would be used by the SNP to agitate for Indyref 2. Davidson would have to ride two horses: loyalty to her party and loyalty to her political nous and personal conscience.

The election of Boris Johnson as Tory leader snapped the tether fastening those two beasts together. Davidson could either be a good Tory, or a successful Scottish Tory; a democrat willing to accept an orderly Brexit but not a chaotic No Deal, or a hypocrite conceding more ground by the day to a wing of her party for which she feels no love or political fidelity.

In the end, her Westminster colleagues dragged her to a line in the sand she could not cross. A woman once touted as a possible successor to David Cameron has been undone by the same forces that did for him. The Conservatives don’t just knife leaders, now they knife potential leaders too.

What will become of the Scottish Tories now? They face seeing all the gains Davidson made evaporate as Nicola Sturgeon is spared her toughest opponent and the Union its doughtiest defender. Her would-be successors will put forward their credentials but all will be judged against the metric of the woman who went before them and all will be found wanting.

Ruth Davidson is the Scottish Conservatives and a new leader will have to fight to preserve her legacy while stamping their own imprimatur on the party, all the while managing the political fall-out of a No Deal Brexit and fending off fresh attempts by the SNP to force Indyref 2. There may be only one person in the Scottish Tories equal to that challenge and she is heading for the exit.