Book review: Ruth Davidson and the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories / Yes She Can
Andrew Liddle has written the first biography of Davidson, while the Scottish Conservaitve leader's own book could almost be seen as a personal manifesto.
Ruth Davidson has enjoyed a stratospheric rise to prominence within the Scottish Conservative Party, winning her surprise leadership victory an astonishing six months after becoming an MSP. Under her redoubtable leadership, the Tory Party have revitalised their fortunes north of the border, more than doubling their seats and overtaking Labour for the first time in sixty years.
Her leadership saw a solid block of Tory MPs sent to Westminster 2017 and without them Theresa May would have found it almost impossible to stay in office – and these MPs owe that loyalty more to Ruth Davidson who handpicked them than to the Prime Minister.
A lesbian, a mother to be, kickboxing former Territorial Army reservist, a journalist and a researcher, it can be said that Davidson has broken the mould of both Tory and Scottish politics, and is seen by many Conservatives as the “queen over the border” and a future prime minister. Although recently Davidson has denied such ambitions wishing to concentrate on being a mother, but then circumstances can change.
Andrew Liddle has written the first biography of Davidson, and whilst she has given him no help she has been quite content for him to speak to family and friends and to search through copious media articles and profiles. Liddle has been a Scottish journalist and has a detailed knowledge of Scottish politics and personalities.
This biography reads well, and has to be accepted as a first profile. Liddle is very good at giving a background to Scottish politics and to show how the Tories were dominant from 1955 to 1979. He reminds the reader that Davidson came from a Conservative working class, lower, middle class background. What is very telling is that she survived an horrific road accident when she was five and had to withdraw from going to Sandhurst for officer training after another accident.
Life has not been easy for her but she developed great resilience and an ability to have a cheery exterior. Important to Davidson is a concept of public service, her strong Christian faith, and coming to terms with her sexuality.
But according to Liddle Davidson was lucky in entering Scottish Conservative politics when there was a desire for change and having powerful patrons supporting her – Annabel Goldie the leader of the Scottish Conservatives and working in her team, and the support of Cameron and Osborne. Here your reviewer would have liked more detail on how this came about.
Liddle shows that Davidson didn’t have an easy time, and her first months as leader of the Scottish Conservatives was truly awful. But she learnt and become a flamboyant public personality who managed to combine her belief in a vibrant Scotland but within the United Kingdom.
Davidson’s latest challenge is coming to terms with a Brexit vote – although she and Scotland voted Remain – and a re-emergence of the Scottish Independence question again. She is a focussed, competitive, ambitious, loyal but when necessary a ruthless woman. Her book Yes She Can weaves her own story with the life lessons learned by inspirational women from around the world.
Women interviewed for this book include Theresa May, Martha Lane Fox, Laura Kuennsberg, Melinda Gates, Tina Brown, Katherine Granger, Sue Black and Sandi Toksvig.
Davidson is fascinated by how women succeeded, and coped with at times depression and failure. She is quite open about her own bouts of depression and coping in the past, and sometimes today, with sexist comments and beliefs of men in many walks of life. Yes She Can could almost be seen as a personal manifesto – watch out Boris Johnson!
Keith Simpson is Conservaitve MP for Broadland and books editor of Total Politics.