I’m not sure if anybody is at all impressed by the rather imaginative tributes to Ruth Davidson with which we have been regaled of late. To my admittedly not entirely impartial ear, they ooze the breathlessly over-anxious, oleaginoulsy sycophantic tone of some party spin-quack’s efforts to rehabilitate a disgraced politician. Or, perhaps, the strenuously overenthusiastic gushing of a shopping channel presenter flogging something that is more promotion than product.
However, Alex Massie has a job to do, and a large part of that job is talking up the British parties in Scotland – this being the vaguely positive, and very subsidiary, strand of the British establishment’s otherwise entirely, grindingly, deplorably negative anti-SNP propaganda effort. Credit where it is due. Talking up the British parties in Scotland is no easy task.
Obviously I don’t agree with Alex Massie’s flattering assessment of Ruth Davidson. Nor am I persuaded that she is “widely admired”. That sounds like one of those concocted “truths” that get repeated in the British media until they are absorbed into the cosy consensus that mainstream journalists mistake for established fact and thence, it is hoped, into the public consciousness. My own impression of Ruth Davidson is of someone promoted somewhat beyond their abilities. She is saved from being entirely out of her depth only by the fact that opposition politics in Scotland is a very shallow noetic pool. Consisting, as it does, of little more than feeding the floor-sweepings of party politics into the “SNP BAD!” sausage-machine, it’s a role which makes few demands on the intellect. If Ruth Davidson has a talent at all it is for making it look to the casual observer like she’s waving not drowning.
Mr Massie is, however, right to be sceptical about the much-heralded “Tory surge” being promised by Davidson. Uncharacteristically for a British nationalist commentator, he asks the pertinent question as to what might be the source of this surge. He concludes that “she must persuade people who do not ordinarily vote that this time they must vote”. Which is a bit like Kezia Dugdale dipping in the magic money pool to find the resources to fund her latest foray in search of the comedic potential of policy-making.
If Davidson’s only hope is that those extra votes will come from where no votes ever came from before, then it is hardly worthy of being called a hope; it would more appropriately be termed a delusion.
There is one possible source of at least some of the additional votes that Davidson will require in order that the result may be spun as the promised surge. And in order that she may be hailed a “winner” by those of her admirers with no sense of irony. I refer, of course, to the hard-line unionists among traditional Labour voters whose devotion to the British state and/or hatred of the SNP usurpers of their entitlement is sufficient to induce them to set aside whatever it is that passes for their principles and vote for the supposedly toxic Tories.
I foresee the “Great British Hypocrisy” of the election campaign being the British parties whining about “divisive” politics and banging on about the need to “get past” the constitutional question while chasing the fanatical ultra-unionist vote with a barrage of tawdry jingoism; rose-tinted nostalgia; strident militarism; union flag-waving; and royal baby dangling. I anticipate a ramping up of irresponsible attacks on Scotland’s institutions and public services. I expect the rhetoric of torrid “blood and soil” British nationalism to be markedly more explicit and extreme even than it was during the first referendum campaign.
I see the prospect of a campaign by the British parties which harnesses all the perverted talents for deceit and vituperation that characterised Project Fear and rouses them to ever greater effort in desperate defence of an established order that is threatened by a wave of democratic dissent being channelled through the SNP.
The hope of a Tory surge in May lies in a reckless appeal to fanaticism. British Labour in Scotland will dumbly allow their anti-SNP campaign to be defined by the Tories, just as they did during the 2015 Westminster election. It will not be pretty. In the aftermath, I look forward to Alex Massie telling us that Ruth Davidson had a “good campaign”.