Sandwiches were so-so and the mineral water was as warm as a Mexican puddle. If the voices of the four leadership candidates were not dry enough already, they were at the end of a tub-thumping, high-soaring hustings.
The four candidates for the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives fought it out in frightful temperatures at the Midland Hotel. The current frontrunners Murdo Fraser and Ruth Davidson lined up alongside older hands Margaret Mitchell and Jackson Carlaw.
The battle was weighted against the radical challenger. Murdo Fraser set out his vision for a new centre right party in Scotland, describing the party in need not just of a new captain, but of a new ship too. His three opponents set out to define themselves against him rather than genuinely setting a new, competing direction.
One after the other, they pointedly reaffirmed their loyalty to name and flag. Ruth Davidson and Margaret Mitchell played big on being “proud” Scottish Conservative and Unionists. Jackson Carlaw claimed an “emotional attachment” to the name and labelled Mr Fraser’s reforms “preposterous”, whilst also implicitly referring to his younger adversary as “that elephant in the room”. Fraser is a mountain of a man but as a politician he is a mere mouse to Carlaw’s elephant. No bets to guess which seems more scared of which.
Size played a part in the battle of the banners too. Mitchell arrived with the biggest of the lot, an enormity of an ensign unfurled to say, “Politics is all about people”. It should have gone on to say “not elephants”, for she had plenty too to say to the big grey beast to her right wanting to gobble up her party. Jackson Carlaw’s banner was boldly coloured and narrow, much like his leadership pitch. “A strong Scotland in a great Britain,” said the man who emphasised his vast experience but gave little beyond stirring words to tell the audience know how he would deploy it. One speck of policy stood out, however, namely a review of the current list MSPs and the imposition of a maximum of three terms. Some would say it should be shorter still.
Why? Because the party needs a change of face, not a change of name. Which ought, in theory, to bring us to elfish Ruth Davidson, who currently leads most forecasts by a whisker. Barely visible above the lectern, the newly elected Glasgow MSP made up for lack of height with no small amount of ambition.
“We must reform our financial structure, our campaigning structure, our policy, using the experience and expertise available, we must re-establish the policy committee, and show a positive face to the world.”
Davidson’s speech was as impressive in its sweep as it was bereft of detail. It could have felt lightweight compared to her more experienced, more bombastic opponents. She even felt outgunned by the propaganda, commenting on Margaret Mitchell, “she’s got a bigger banner than me and everything!”
But if lightweight is what Davidson appears, she does it assuredly. The mark of a candidate with victory in her sights, perhaps, and keeping her cards close to her chest.