Sketch: Ruth Davidson and the fight against a one-party state
Two well-dressed gentlemen wandered around outside the Scottish Conservative conference at Murrayfield, unsure about how to get inside.
“It would have been helpful to have put up a sign,” said one, sighing, “but perhaps it would have been vandalised”.
Well, yes, perhaps. After all, it is still not very popular to be a Tory in Scotland – and at times you can see why. If the conference delegates were anything to go by, the party is more or less entirely composed of people who look like they should be playing the villain in a children’s film.
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Which is not to say they didn’t have fun. Alex Johnstone stood in a doorway, fondly remembering his rugby career to a gaggle of admirers. A stand at the entrance sold Tory-branded silk ties. Someone complained that Nicola Sturgeon gets free paracetamol. It was pretty much what you would expect for a pre-election conference.
And if there was ever any doubt what the party’s election message is, the lectern at the front of the hall, bearing the words ‘Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition’, soon cleared it up. This, evidently, was the Ruth Davidson show. All the big names were there in support.
The afternoon session saw Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon standing on stage, talking about the need to hunt down enemy submarines.
It was a sobering speech. There is a world out there full of enemies, psychopaths, killers, assassins, soldiers and terrorists, and the only thing standing between you and them is Michael Fallon. A man who looks like a repressed teddy bear.
Attacking Labour’s stance on Trident, he said: “They suggest that the nuclear deterrent is some kind of political virility symbol that we would never use… I have to tell you they couldn’t be more wrong.”
“We use it every day, every night,” Fallon continued. Indeed. We use it all night long.
“There is no escaping the fact that nuclear weapons exist,” he said. Which is true, though in fairness that is largely because we won’t get rid of them.
“Only yesterday, in North Korea, Kim Jong-un threatened to wave his…” he paused, “around…”, he paused, “in our… uh,” he stammered, each gap more suggestive than the last. What was Kim Jong-un waving, and where? “… in our… uh… against the West.”
Waving his around in our uh… Yes, there is definitely nothing symbolic about Trident. But this was a serious business, and that’s how Fallon continued, slowly and solemnly running through Labour’s defence failings, like the treasurer of the local cricket team explaining that vandals had broken into the clubhouse and pissed all over the sandwiches.
“Labour have even suggested we should go on building the submarines but not put any missiles in them”, he said. Everyone laughed. Ridiculous. They would leave us impotent.
But the main billing, clearly, had been the arrival of the Prime Minister, who had been smuggled into the stadium in secret, like a pig’s head at a dinner party.
The PM had come with a warning. “Scotland is in danger of becoming a one-party state,” he said. It seemed an odd statement for the head of government and head of the army and person best-placed to establish a one-party state to make on the eve of a democratic election. What sort of one-party state even has free elections? And using proportional representation? That’s basic incompetence. Scotland: too wee, too poor and too stupid to run a successful one-party state.
And of course some will inevitably question the wisdom of sending an Eton and Oxford educated aristocratic millionaire to play the anti-elitist card, but that would be unfair.
After all, what does some sweaty anarchist know about the establishment? They’ve never even met the governor of the Bank of England.
So yes, it all sounded pretty dubious, but everyone loved it. And it says a lot about the peculiarities of party conferences themselves that the British PM can turn up looking like an abused ham, babble incoherently for 20 or 30 minutes about threats to democracy, without producing any evidence, and basically be guaranteed a standing ovation.
So it was left to Ruth Davidson to close, largely spending her time kicking Labour for being weak. She picked up on a familiar theme. “You know,” she pondered, “I keep being told Scotland is turning into a one-party state.”
Who keeps telling you this? OK, yes, we had heard it quite a lot, but only at the Tory conference, and largely from Davidson’s own press team.
But still, it is a worry, and the SNP’s slide towards despotism is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Nicola Sturgeon will probably start doing ludicrous self-indulgent photo opportunities next: playing the bagpipes or driving a quad bike in an effort to highlight the strength of the Glorious Leader.
That’s the sort of thing Putin does. If the First Minister starts posing with tanks we should really start to worry.
But by the end the answer was clear. The conference ended in stage-managed triumph: back the Glorious Leader, Ruth Davidson, to destroy Labour and stop a one-party state.