Ruth Davidson: do not treat compromise as a dirty word
I remember – not so long ago – being the new kid on the block. A freshman MSP taking on the leadership of my party at an age regularly remarked upon by media commentators and with zero experience of frontline politics.
I made a million mistakes and had to hustle to insert my party’s voice in the debate at all.
I’m not sure what happened, but suddenly I feel like a Scottish political veteran.
In the nearly eight years that I’ve occupied this role, I’ve led the Scottish Conservatives through seven national elections and two referendum campaigns. I’m on my second first minister, my third prime minister, my fourth UK Liberal Democrat leader and my fifth leader of Scottish Labour.
I’m not sure if – like boiling a frog – I would necessarily have noticed the transition if I hadn’t spent some time away from the chalk face this year, while on maternity leave.
Even with the frequent calls to the PM, cabinet colleagues and MSPs at Holyrood, taking a step back and trading acts and amendments for nappies and night feeds, gave me a chance to climb out of the bubble and look at the world from a different angle.
I noticed, for example, the ferocity of the social-media clash that afflicts Scottish political debate.
I saw the fringes get louder and louder and the risk of the centre ground being overrun.
And it wasn’t just Scotland. The temperature of political debate has been rising all round the world.
Out has gone bipartisan collaboration, replaced by Twitter pitchforks and betrayal narratives. Opponents have become enemies while the protest and counter protest sees one side calling the other ‘sell-outs’, while the cry of ‘traitors’ is lobbed back in return.
Where it’s not enough to question or debate an idea, you have to delegitimise the person that makes it. Dismiss the man, and there’s no need to play the ball. It’s not a pretty sight.
But here’s the other thing about stepping back. You realise that the all-consuming politician-journalist-commentator-activist axis eating itself online isn’t real life, or anything like it. People aren’t shouting louder in the streets. Or at their desk. Or in the supermarket.
Most people are still looking for grown-up politicians to listen, to think about things properly and to compromise. The vast majority want the same thing they’ve always wanted – for politicians to take account of people’s views, and follow a practical, pragmatic approach that does the most good.
I believe this is what most people are looking for when it comes to the two overriding issues of the current moment: Brexit and Scottish independence.
On Brexit, I will support the new Conservative administration as it seeks to get a new deal over the coming weeks so we can leave the EU on October 31st.
But, as I have said already this summer, my plea to all sides is not to treat compromise as a dirty word, but as the necessary path towards a better, settled relationship.
That will be difficult, with both hard Leavers and hard Remainers insisting that only their way is the right way, and everything else is a sign of betrayal. But while the identity of the Prime Minister has changed, the facts haven’t.
We will need to trade closely with our own continent. We need to respect the result we took to leave the EU. We need as a country to come back together.
The best way to honour both those necessities is to agree an orderly departure from the EU as soon as possible. And the best way to prevent a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is for MPs of all stripes to actually vote for a deal.
And on independence, I would urge the SNP leadership, at this critical time, not to follow in the wake of an increasingly vocal activist base which would have another independence referendum tomorrow.
Instead, I would urge them to listen to the majority in the country who want a government to focus on what matters to them.
The vast majority of polls have shown no enthusiasm for yet another referendum just a few years after the last ‘once in a generation’ event.
Most people in this country simply want a government to put constitutional division to one side for a few years so we can focus on the pressing matters we face on the domestic front.
This summer has exposed just a few: from the scandal of the Sick Kids’ hospital delay to, in our schools, the continuing decline in the Higher pass rate.
Above and beyond those are the enormous challenges facing policymakers with regard to climate change, automation, housing policy and technological change.
We cannot go on putting these priorities to one side. We risk waking up in ten years’ time wondering why other countries have stolen a march on us.
The SNP knows most people in Scotland have had enough. It may have become a cliché to say it, but it really is time they got back to the day job.
Indeed, I’d go so far as to say the reputation of Scotland’s devolution project depends on it.
Twenty years on from its beginning in 2019, much has been achieved at the parliament at the foot of the Royal Mile. But far too much time has been wasted, too.
And for every day of progress introducing social reforms, like equal marriage and integrating health and social care, we’ve had weeks and months deliberating the same old constitutional issues. The public’s patience is wearing thin.
The facts are these. The Scottish Government’s budget is rising. It has powers over tax and welfare that it asked for. There is nothing stopping it, and us all, from getting on with making Scotland the better place it can be, right now.
As Scotland’s main opposition party, we will be setting out our own ideas on the domestic front this autumn – from reform of the failing Curriculum for Excellence programme to greater transparency in criminal sentencing.
And we will begin to roll out our key message for the 2021 election: to oppose a second referendum on independence so we can get Scotland focused back on the things that matter: decent well-paid jobs for all, better public services, a great school for every child.
That’s what devolution was supposed to be about when the parliament was formed twenty years ago.
It’s in that tradition that the Scottish Conservatives will seek to govern over the coming years, too.