Ruth Davidson's pregnancy shows yet again that she's a political pioneer

The Scottish Conservative leader is living by that powerful dictum: be the change you wish to see in the world. 

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Politics is a weird old existence: the demi-fame, the quadrennial (at least) job insecurity, the flash of the blade. It’s hard work at the mundane level, too. You don’t get evenings and weekends off. Every MP is a mini-monarch, shaking hands, small-talking, cutting ribbons. Smile and wave till it hurts, folks, because if you want to get on you’d better stay switched on.

This might be one reason there are so many oddballs and risk-takers in the field. It may also account for the notable lack of offspring among those who make it to the highest level – politics, done to the nth degree, has always been family-unfriendly.

The exceptions prove the rule. We remember the nation’s delighted shock when Tony Blair announced he and Cherie were having a baby (Leo is now, unthinkably, 17). We remember the politics of the moment, too: the unbeatable Tony in his easy virility, holding a coffee mug bearing a photo of his other three kids, seemed to have become that bit more unbeatable. In his memoir, Blair entertainingly recounts the response to the announcement of the pregnancy: “a) astonishment – ‘You mean the Prime Minister has sex? And with his wife?’; b) cynicism – ‘Alastair Campbell commanded it as part of a diversionary tactic’; and from our children, c) mild disgust.” We recall the humanising effect the birth of his two sons and the loss of his daughter had on the granite edifice that was Gordon Brown. David Cameron was every bit PM as family man.

If the “pram in the hall” was for so long seen as a sombre enemy of personal advancement, this is, thankfully, beginning to change. As our leaders have become younger, and as society and the workplace have become more understanding of and accommodating to the pressures of managing a young family and a career, the idea of toddlers noodling around the playdens of power has become a less exotic concept. Blair was an outlier here, too: “It was weird having a baby again, and weirder still in Downing Street. But right from the off, he was carried from room to room, from the switchboard to the foreign policy unit, a pocket-size piece of benign innocence existing in the maelstrom of the world-weary activities of government.”

Next up, Babe Ruth. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, has revealed that, following a course of IVF, she is three months pregnant with her and her partner Jen Wilson’s first child. The announcement was met with widespread expressions of goodwill, and Davidson has handled the various interviews with her usual sangfroid and good cheer. “I’ve had a bit of the fatigue, the nausea and the dizzy spells and all the rest of it,” she said, admitting she had tried to keep the news quiet as she struggled with early-morning sickness. “There was once when I was on my way up to First Minister's Questions and you can probably see on one of the tapes that I go in and sit down, I’m there for a good 30 seconds before I get back up and walk right out again, just in case.”

The 39-year-old MSP is yet again living by that powerful political dictum: be the change you wish to see in the world. She won’t just be a first-time mum in the political front line, but a first-time gay mum. In a couple of years she might even be a first-time gay mum and first minister. In her deliberate, unfussy way, Davidson makes advance after advance for gay people by simply getting on and doing things. Given the conservative environment in which she operates - both party and nation - this matters.

There will be the usual debates about how the politics of the pregnancy will play. The inevitable photo-ops when Babe Ruth arrives will certainly do the Scottish Tories no harm. Davidson is canny enough to know that less is more and will no doubt choose her moments to put the baby on show. But we must hope, too, that her good fortune and her personal circumstances help us step away from the poisonous insinuations of the past.

It’s not that long since the Tory leadership contest in which Andrea Leadsom said that as mother of three she had “a very real stake” in Britain’s future – obviously contrasting her circumstances with those of the childless Theresa May. This was a classic piece of Conservative chicanery – a female version of the insidious “he’s a good family man” trope. In 2015, this magazine ran a controversial cover about “the motherhood trap”, showing Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May, Liz Kendall and Angela Merkel standing over an empty cot. “Jeezo…we appear to have woken up in 1965 this morning!” tweeted Sturgeon at the time.

Not having children should plainly be no bar to holding high office, and nor does it mean an individual has no natural sympathy for or focus on young families. Sturgeon is living evidence of that, having put a huge amount of energy into policies she believes will benefit children and parents, from the Baby Box to the Named Person proposal, and much else.

The real world is, meanwhile, fast evolving towards lifestyle tolerance, the acceptance that everyone has the right to be happy and fulfilled, and the settled belief that living as you wish shouldn’t prevent professional achievement. Our politics, which at times has never seemed so arthritic and detached from the modern, will have to catch up with this state of affairs before too long. Ruth Davidson is playing her part, brilliantly.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).