The warm-up act in the shiny blue suit – didn’t he used to be on children’s television? – is winding up his routine. The audience is sparse but friendly. Most are old enough to remember when he’d been a proper celebrity..
The bossy woman who looked like the female prison guards in G4S brochures and managed, by the wonders of Bluetooth, to conduct at least three simultaneous loud conversations each accompanied by its own range of gesticulations performed with practised ease despite her being burdened with two phones, a radio handset, a tablet and a clipboard festooned with fluorescent Post-It notes, had warned him to steer clear of Alex Salmond – something about incontinent lawyers – and he’d noticed more than a few puzzled faces in the audience when he did his Richard Leonard material – isn’t he the shadow minister for woodland management?
In the plus column, his best Nicola Sturgeon jokes had gone down extraordinarily well. They’d elicited more braying laughter than even he reckoned they deserved. It was as if each of the people scattered around the room was intent on outdoing the others in a display of mocking contempt for their favourite hate-figure. Everybody wanted to be the one who laughed the loudest. Nobody wanted to be the one who stopped laughing first.. At their peak they sounded like a bunch of robots at a Jim Davidson gig.
Like the professional he always insisted he was, Mr Vaguely Familiar moves the hand-held wireless mic closer as he raises his voice in volume and pitch for the grand announcement,
“Ladies and gentlemen… blah blah blah… star of our show… blah blah blah… most respected… blah blah blah… most admired… blah blah blah… next First Minister of Scotland… RUTH DAVIDSON MSP!!!”
Anthemic music booms. Ruth Davidson bounds onto the stage to a frenzied roar of adulation from the thousands of her supporters packing the huge auditorium. She grins. She opens her arms wide as if attempting to embrace all her admirers. She bows. She blows a kiss to someone in the crowd despite being unable to see anything for the barrage of camera flashes and the dizzying disco lighting.
She waves – being careful to avoid anything that might look like a Nazi salute in a photograph. She graces the other performers behind her on the stage with a few moments of her precious attention before turning back to urge a further round of cheers and renewed applause.
Conscious that she mustn’t look like she’s milking it, Ruth strides to the lectern where she stands looking as humble as she can and gesturing as if pleading with the audience to calm themselves. The noise gradually dies down. She puts on her serious face, readies her trade-mark angry scowl and launches into what will come to be regarded as one of the greatest pieces of political oratory ever heard at any party conference.
Awakening from her reverie, Ruth realises that the reality is hardly likely to match her little fantasy. For a start, there’s the problem of numbers. There just isn’t going to be a packed auditorium. They might manage to pack a medium-sized village hall. But there’s just no way her party can match the accursed Nats. Not for the first time, Ruth wonders what Sturgeon has that she doesn’t. As ever, she avoids any serious attempt to answer the question.
What Ruth does have is the unthinking adoration of the British media. She can be confident that they will play down the SNP conference as much as possible. The BBC, in particular, can be relied upon to prevent the public seeing how huge the event is. She knows, too, that the British media will be uncommonly kind to her. She knows that she will be praised no matter what. She knows that her pronouncements will be accepted without question. She knows that the inconsistencies will never never be pointed out. She knows that the dishonesty will never be challenged. The impunity she enjoys has made her reckless. Not being cursed with self-awareness, she doesn’t know when she’s made a complete arse of herself. And neither the media nor her entourage are about to burst her bubble. Ruth is happy with things this way. One might even say, blissful.
There are flies in the ointment, however. Desperately as she wants this to be the ‘The Ruth Davidson Show’, she is aware that many others in the party hope to use the event to gain a bit of exposure. Goodness knows how many leadership candidates will be trooping north to steal her thunder. Isn’t everybody a leadership candidate these days. Well, maybe not Gavin Williamson. But it takes a lot to rule someone out of the contest to replace Theresa May. Ruth herself had been named as a potential successor in the past. Doubtless she would be again before the conference was over. Something else the British media pack could be depended on for.
But in the small part of her mind where realism still reins, Ruth is aware that it’s always going to be difficult to keep her place on the front pages when the ‘big beasts’ are in town. All it takes is for Boris Johnson to do his own take on media exposure and drop his trousers on Union Street and nobody else will get a look in.
The speech is problematic, too. For all her fantasies of something of historic proportions, she really doesn’t have much to say beyond railing against the SNP and denouncing the idea of the people of Scotland being entitled to choose how they are governed. Being the ‘Queen of the BritNats’ has been good for her political career. No doubt of that. And she is grateful, yet again, to the British media for making her the figurehead of British Nationalism in Scotland. But the role has left little room for anything else. She’s become something of a one-trick pony. And the pony is going lame.
Such thoughts don’t trouble her unduly, however. She remains convinced that her best bet of some electoral success is to hoover up as much of the British Nationalist vote as possible. The SNP being pretty much impregnable, she has to take hard-line Unionist votes from Labour and the LibDems if she is to get anywhere near Bute House without tagging along on a guided tour. And the way to do that is to be the staunchest, fiercest, most vociferous defender of the British state. Something which, hopefully, would stand her in good stead when she decided to move towards the leadership.
But that is for another day. Today it’s all about putting on a show. Grabbing the media’s attention. Staying in the limelight. For a change, being Scottish might be an advantage. Ever since the good old days of Project Fear when British politicians had northward rushed in droves to lecture the Scotch on how pathetically dependent they were, when any came to Scotland now it always looked like they were here to scent-mark territory on behalf of the British ruling elite.
Perhaps that’s how Boris would capture the front pages. Maybe he’d do a bit of scent-marking in Union Street while his trousers were down. Wee Dougie Ross would doubtless try to emulate his idol, and end up pishing on his own shoes. How the hell can anybody compete with a photo-op like that?
Another concern is that, unusually for a gathering of British politicians in Scotland, the location not being kept a closely guarded secret. Which means all sorts of people might turn up. Worryingly, this might include people whose purpose is to observe and report rather than manipulate perception. That could be awkward.
But hey! The show must go on! Ruth is ready for her close-up.
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