The very fact that the questions are being asked about Ruth Davidson’s future as leaderette of David Cameron’s North British operation tells us that her future is not as secure as she likes to pretend. It also suggests that she is being held personally responsible for the decision to stake the Scottish Tories’ electoral fortunes on a desperate bid to lure hard-line unionist votes away from British Labour in Scotland with a campaign designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator among British nationalist fanatics.
Internally, of course, Davidson has undoubtedly pinned her future on “beating Labour into second place in the Holyrood election”. Much as the polls may have prompted second thoughts about her boast that the Scottish Tories can go from toxic support act for their British Labour allies to a leading role as official opposition, that moment of braggadocio will inevitably come back to haunt her if she fails to come first among failures.
What may be interesting about this developing sideshow is the way it is coming to serve, if not entirely satisfy, the British media’s need to get back to the ‘normality’ of British politics, and the faux rivalry between British Labour and the other half of the double-act. I suspect we will see an increasing focus on the runners-up and an effort to portray this as the really significant aspect of the election. The SNP is, of course, ‘only’ a Scottish party. How can it possibly be as important as the ‘main’ British parties? Such is the mindset of the British media. Whether with malicious intent or merely as a function of their primitive instincts, they will tend to seize upon any opportunity to sideline the Scottish in favour of the British.
Which will, incidentally, feed nicely into a battle for the crumbs off the Scottish Parliamentary election table fought as a contest of increasingly extravagant displays of Britishness. British Labour in Scotland will, as ever, allow their Tory dancing partners to lead. They will take their cue from Ruth Davidson as she prances and postures before the lumpen loyalist mass. Even as I write, the moths are being shaken out of lurid union jack clown-suits and the tawdry baubles of ‘Brand Britain’ are being dusted off. The appeals to sickly sentimentality for a mythical past are being prepared. The militaristic jingoism is being rehearsed. If at all possible, royal buns will already be in aristocratic ovens. The British bit of the Scottish General Election will come to look like a badly printed scene from a cheap commemorative plate. It will not be pleasant.
But there is a serious side to all of this. One wonders if Ruth Davidson is aware of the dark forces she is toying with as she seeks to rouse the monster of British nationalist fanaticism in aid of her electoral ambition. Is she genuinely naive enough to suppose that she can control the slavering beast she seeks to unleash? Is Kezia Dugdale smart enough to avoid being drawn into a fight for the favours of elements that less desperate politicians would shun?
Having observed the conduct of the British parties in Scotland over the past few years, there is no cause to be hopeful. Neither can we hope that the media will behave responsibly. The expectation must be that the British media will relish the contamination of Scotland’s politics that the British parties are set to visit upon us. If we are not careful, Ruth Davidson’s political career may be the least of the casualties in the coming election.