Souter back in Borders to boost Tory leadership bid

Ruth Davidson MSP visit.
Ruth Davidson MSP visit.

SHE has followed Selkirk’s Royal Burgh Standard Bearer on horseback on return visits to the town in which she spent her early childhood, writes Andrew Keddie.

But on November 4, Ruth Davidson will be hoping to be out in front when the race to lead the Scottish Conservatives is finally run.

The 32-year-old MSP for Glasgow was in the Borders last week to rally support among her party’s grass roots, 8,500 of whom will decide in a postal ballot who will replace Annabel Goldie at the helm.

And after addressing a meeting of about 60 members of the local Conservative Association in Jedburgh, she claimed the Borders was “proof positive” the Conservatives could win in Scotland without divorcing itself from the UK party.

That was a barb aimed directly at her closest leadership rival, Murdo Fraser, the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP who, at the launch of his campaign earlier this month, said splitting from the UK party to form a new centre-right organisation was the Tories’ only hope of attracting greater support in Scotland. He claimed the party, which was left with just 15 MSPs after the SNP’s May landslide, would have to “adapt or die”.

But last week, Ms Davidson spoke instead of her confidence that the party in its present form could again become a driving force in Scottish politics by bringing together the Convervative family from all walks of life, and all ages and reclaiming the support of those who had drifted away.

“It is the message and the policies, not the structure, which is important,” she told us.

The meeting was organised by her campaign manager, John Lamont MSP, who comfortably held the redrawn Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency in May: an achievement acknowledged by Ms Davidson.

“Having spent time in the Borders before the last elections to help John Lamont, it’s great to visit again and have his support and the support of so many local party members in my leadership campaign.

“By being re-elected for his constituency with an increased majority, John proved the Conservatives can still win in Scotland and I believe I have the energy, determination and vision to make that happen in other parts of Scotland.”

Mr Lamont, who is organising Ms Davidson’s charm offensive across Scotland’s 59 Holyrood constituencies, said she had received a warm reception. He said: “Her qualities of energy, vision and drive were very evident to her audience and she clearly has the ability to reach out to and connect with people right across Scotland.”

Ms Davidson, 32, was born in Edinburgh in the days before the BGH and when Selkirk, where her father, Douglas, was a mill manager at Laidlaw & Fairgrieve, no longer had maternity facilities.

The Davidsons lived in Bridgelands Road and Raeburn Place, and Ruth attended Knowepark School until primary three, while her father, who had played professional football for Partick Thistle in his younger days, became a midfield stalwart in the all-conquering Selkirk FC side of the late 70s and early 80s.

The family left the Borders for Fife when Mr Davidson took a job in the whisky industry and Ruth graduated from Edinburgh University before working as journalist, presenter and documentary maker with the BBC.

A former Sunday school teacher, she served three years in the Territorial Army and worked as head of Miss Goldie’s private office before being elected in May.

“I keep up with many family friends in Selkirk and have a great affinity with the Borders, not just because voters had the good sense to vote Conservative,” said Ms Davidson.

“The day after I spoke in Jedburgh, the bookmaker Stan James made me favourite for the first time at odds of 11/10, so the Borders may well be working its magic!”

z Stan James rates Mr Fraser a 6/5 shot for the Tory leadership with Jackson Carlaw at 6/1 and Margaret Mitchell the outsider at 10/1.