Sketch: Michelle Ballantyne takes leadership
Michelle Ballantyne is finally head honcho. After setting out a year ago to become leader of the Scottish Conservatives, she has now been appointed the Scottish branch leader of a party that some see as quite similar to the Tories, but not quite the Tories, you understand, because importantly, it has her as the leader.
It might seem a little bizarre that originally Ballantyne entered that Tory leadership contest to avoid a “coronation” of Jackson Carlaw, then forcefully insisted the party membership must choose their leader rather than have “party high heidyins make a decision and foist it on everybody else” when Douglas Ross was later foisted upon it, only to accept an appointment as leader without a leadership race or membership vote with Reform UK Scotland.
Would Ballantyne still be a member of the Tories if she’d won the leadership election last year? Who can say?
Importantly, Reform UK – the party formally known as the Brexit Party – now has a Scottish arm and plans to field candidates in the next Scottish Parliament election, of which Ballantyne will be one.
Introducing Ballantyne during an online launch, chairman Richard Tice said the party needed a leader in Scotland “who understands Scottish politics”.
Good start. It probably wouldn’t be much use for them to have an understanding of, say, Russian politics. Or Chinese politics. Unless the reform they are talking about for Scotland is considerably more radical than first thought.
So, what does Ballantyne want as leader of this new party? “Naturally, we are pro-reform. It’s in our name,” she said. Good Michelle, remembering the name of your party is an excellent start. Keep going.
“We are pro-Scotland.” Another strong line. It wouldn’t be much use launching a party in Scotland that was anti-Scotland. It goes back to that whole understanding Scottish politics issue.
She is also a firm believer that “human beings need to be able to interact socially,” which proves she understands people as well as Scottish politics.
She then pledged the party would “respect the basic rights of freedom of thought” which is something we can all get behind, I think. Coming out straight from the beginning and confirming you don’t back the creation of a Thought Police unit within Police Scotland is to be welcomed.
Then she turned to her CV: 30 years in the health sector, plus owning a business. “Reform will be the champion of those who want to succeed,” she said, meaning people like herself, presumably.
“They want to build a Scotland that cheers success.” Maybe we should get people out on their doorsteps every Thursday, clapping and banging pots and pans for those people that want to succeed.
“And yes, with our pedigree, we are unashamedly the party that will seize the positive opportunities”. Wait, pedigree? Is this a party going to the dogs? Are those positive opportunities a juicy bone or a bouncy ball? People would probably vote for a party of dogs – just look at all the dog mayors around the world. Not sure why you would limit that to just pedigrees though. Mutts can be good boys too. We are, after all, a mongrel nation.
She concluded by confirming the party would “bring forward a range of policies and proposals over the next few months.” That will be useful. Being pro-human contact and anti-thought police is a good foundation, but probably not enough to fill a manifesto.
On to questions from the audience. “Are you seriously going to stand in Scotland?” one asked. Ballantyne confirmed that is the plan, which is a good commitment for a political party to make. She also pledged to bring forward “a really good set of candidates”, which may or may not include pedigree pooches but no one asked that question.
Another question came from a person that didn’t actually have a question. “I hadn’t actually logged in to ask a question. I was just listening.” Well, no matter, did the man have a question for Ballantyne anyway? “I think, move on,” came the helpful reply.
And finally, how does this party differ from the others? Ballantyne replied: “We are forming in order to actually start putting forward the alternatives to suggestions that have been made already.” A respectable starting block, though it might have been more useful to say what some of those alternatives were.
Recognising this, Richard Tice jumped back in to confirm the party wanted to make sure public services were run by “common sense”. Does this mean services are currently run by an uncommon sense? Like a sixth sense? Are our public services run by ghosts? Is NHS management actually just three Bruce Willises in a trench coat?
Still, it all seems like a reasonable start for the new party. Nigel Farage, the leader of Reform at UK level, later released a video welcoming Ballantyne to the team. Ballantyne is now an MSP for Reform UK and Farage finally has an elected representative in the Scottish Parliament, never mind that the party she was elected to represent wasn’t his.
He said Ballantyne was “prepared to stand up and fight” because “debate has ceased”. And on that, someone should really tell the Scottish Parliament because they keep scheduling those damn debates despite Farage’s assertion.