Could Scotland’s opposition leader be heading to Downing Street?
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is widely seen as a popular figure in the Conservative Party. Following last June’s election, her appearance at the Conservative Party conference was met with excited applause and hype about her future in the context of a glum conference overall.
In 2016, Davidson led her party to second place at Holyrood, beating Kezia Dugdale’s Scottish Labour into third. One year later, while the Conservatives lost their Westminster majority, Davidson secured her Scottish contingent an additional twelve seats.
It’s no wonder that Davidson is seen as a future leader when the Conservatives are in difficult times. Davidson has revitalised a party that was on the brink of breaking away from its UK mother-party and has taken it to new heights.
But what does the future hold for her?
This week has turned the rumour mill up to eleven in response to this question. In Davidson’s current role as Leader of the Opposition, her obvious next step is Bute House. Replacing Nicola Sturgeon would be a significant triumph for the Scottish Conservatives, but a recent Survation/Daily Record poll indicates that the SNP remain the largest party while Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives are battling it out for second place.
NEW: Scottish Westminster Voting Intention for @Daily_Record:— Survation. (@Survation) January 31, 2018
SNP 39% (+2); LAB 27% (-2); CON 24% (NC); LD 7% (NC); Other 3% (NC).
Full tables, plus voting intentions for Holyrood #indyref2 and Leave/Remain can be found here: https://t.co/fSWKRR0kgw pic.twitter.com/sRDl3fIkRY
The next Scottish election is not until 2021, but if things barely shift then the best Davidson can hope for is a unionist majority. Becoming the largest party and cobbling together a deal with the Liberal Democrats and potentially Labour would be the ideal Davidson situation. She could then serve as first minister and after one or two relatively successful terms could run for Westminster, much like Boris Johnson did with London, but at this stage it looks more likely that the SNP will remain the largest party.
If, however, the SNP and Greens lose their majority, as looks possible based off recent polling, that could be a significant enough victory for Davidson. She could subsequently use that as a stepping stone to enter the House of Commons at the 2022 Westminster election. From there, she could use the fact she “saved the union” to enter cabinet if the Conservatives win or run for the leadership if they lose to Jeremy Corbyn. That would put her in the prime position to run to be PM in 2027.
An alternative of this is that following stepping down from Holyrood after a 2021 defeat, but a victory for the union, she could win a by-election ahead of a leadership switch before the 2022 vote. From there she could take the fight to Jeremy Corbyn in 2022.
However, there is another more radical option that has been discussed this week. According to the IB Times, the Sun reported a rumour that Conservative MP and grandson of World War Two leader Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames could quit his seat and trigger a by-election, paving the way for a Ruth Davidson leadership.
This would be a risky move for three reasons. Firstly, although Soames has a colossal majority, it’s not hard to imagine the opposition parties uniting to ensure that the people of the constituency get a local representative. They could even step aside for a local independent. Failure to get elected in this way would be an embarrassment for Davidson. Secondly, while she is popular now, the Scottish Tory leader would be accused of running scared from Nicola Sturgeon, something that could seriously damage her image. Thirdly, a win does not guarantee she would become prime minister. She would no doubt have the backing of the Scottish Conservative contingent in a leadership contest, as well as others who see her leadership potential, but could she really form a large enough alliance to see off the likes of Johnson, Gove, Rudd and Davis?
Ruth Davidson has a risky few years ahead. It’s not difficult to imagine Ruth Davidson becoming PM, or at least Tory leader, but which path could she take? And how safe might she play it?