Ruth Davidson's Diary: My last minutes as leader, and entertaining a baby without his toys

Any thought of departing as leader of the Scottish Conservatives in a manner of my own choosing was soon demolished by ambitious colleagues and a media scrum.

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The Canadian ambassador is in town for the Edinburgh Festival. My plan was to power through the admin at home as it’s a day without childcare but Janice Charette is only here overnight. I ask if it’s OK to meet her for lunch and bring baby Finn along. She suggests her husband, Roy, joins us too. We therefore have a catch-up that’s half putting the political world to rights and half discussing family, Fringe shows and parenting. Roy notices Finn is much more engaged with our waitress and one of the young mums at the next table than anybody else in the restaurant. “He really likes blondes.” Not something I’d noticed and now I’m concerned my ten-month-old is destined to grow up a shallow flirt. Hmm.

Better to go quickly

I had thought eight years of service as party leader would have earned me the right to go at a time and in a manner of my own choosing, but it was not to be. News is news and ambitious colleagues jockeying for position and keen to curry favour with journalists put paid to plans to serve out the first few weeks of parliament, respond to the SNP’s programme for government (Holyrood’s equivalent of the Queen’s Speech) and generally do all the heavy lifting the start of term entails. We managed to dampen down the first hint of what was in the offing by correctly informing a national newspaper that I would be back at my desk – as leader – that week. But the fact that the gossip was circulating and hardening into fact spooked us all. I had, as promised, taken the summer to reflect on my decision, first articulated two months before. I hadn’t changed my mind. I was going. Therefore, better to go quickly than get hounded out of office.

Exit under cover of night

Even the most basic press conference – bland hotel room, slightly scuffed lectern, brief statement, four questions – takes far more organising than anyone imagines. Letters need writing and statements crafting. The choreography has to be worked out so you can get in and out of the building without cameras stuffed under your nose and reporters shouting, “Are you going to RESIGN, Ruth?” on live TV. Another leak means the intricate round of phone calls to inform those who need to know before it hits the news – the chairman, prime minister, secretary of state, deputy leader – is scuppered. Journalists are already on the hunt after the Prime Minister announced he is to prorogue parliament and Her Majesty’s press corps is, quite rightly, miffed that we’ve said I’m not going to comment.

I race home to chuck things in a bag for my partner Jen, me and Finn, cancel the dog-walker, throw the spaniel into the car and head round to a friend’s house for an overnight to avoid being doorstepped and asked if this action by the government is a resignation matter. There follows several hellish hours of trying to entertain a baby without his toys, feed him without a high chair, and get him off to sleep in a foreign travel cot in unfamiliar surroundings. The hyperactive spaniel thinks it’s all a hilarious game.

The land of good stories

Of course, impending resignation or no, diary commitments still need fulfilling. So the final days involve diverse discussions with apprentices at a bus manufacturer in Stirlingshire; and senior management of a financial services firm that has hived off a big chunk of the business (and hundreds of jobs in my constituency) from the Standard Life/Aberdeen Asset Management merger. One of the joys of this job over the past eight years has been getting on the road and visiting communities, businesses and charities I’ve never met before and want to find out more about. I will take away conversations in hundreds of corners of Scotland that have surprised me or made me think. We have so many good stories to tell of people doing amazing things – not seeking recognition or publicity, just quietly getting on with the job. At its heart, politics is about people.

Dawn of the unmitigated gremlin

Early-morning chaos leads to calm as I get myself cloistered in the hotel where the press conference will take place. I thank my close team for all they’ve done over the past eight years. A brief flurry of activity as I discover the cottage I’ve booked in Northumberland for the family to escape to for the weekend had a website with a flexible dates option on days that we didn’t unclick: we’re therefore officially homeless for another night. The phone calls to the letting company are a good displacement activity.

Suddenly, it’s time. Deep Breath. As the door opens there’s a physical surge of photographers towards me. I talk about my conflict over Brexit and my failings as a daughter, sister, partner and friend. I explain I am choosing to walk away because of both the political and the personal. I confirm I am not leaving parliament and will continue as an MSP for Edinburgh Central.

I walk straight down the stairs and to my car, to pick up Finn from the child minder’s house so we can get away. Arriving in Northumberland, I pour a very large glass of white wine. I don’t know whether it’s teething or the upheaval of the third different bed in three nights, but Finn is continuing his transformation from smiling, bubbly, bouncing delight to unmitigated little gremlin. I wonder if it’s too late to reconsider…

This article appears in the 06 September 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The new civil war