Ruth Davidson’s diary: Michelle’s Law, cake-based trolling and a bruising 24 hours for Theresa May

In memory of Michelle Stewart, the law would give victims and their families more rights in relation to parole and early release system in Scotland.

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This week is the week of my book. I’ve never written one before and – having spent the decade before my election to parliament in journalism – I am unused to the time-lag nature of publishing.

I handed in the completed text in May, subject to a few minor corrections during the proofreading process. It’s now September and the Sunday Times is publishing some extracts. Despite the book not being about me – it’s based on interviews conducted with mould-breaking women from the worlds of business, politics, sport, science, medicine, technology and entertainment – the paper is featuring a section where I talk about the depression I suffered as a teenager.

It’s not something I’ve discussed publicly before and I’m nervous. It’s quite an exposing thing to reveal, but I first spoke to a mental health charity nearly three years ago about wanting to do so. It’s taken me this long both to work up to it, and to find a way to put it in my own words. I keep telling myself that it’ll be OK, and reminding myself how much it would have helped me back then to see people being more open about the issue – to know that it wasn’t a full stop, but rather something to manage.

My displacement activity is to wreck my kitchen baking banana and walnut bread, a chocolate orange loaf, and mini hazelnut meringues until midnight, as I watch the story drop on the newspaper’s website before being picked up by other titles, whose reaction and headlines I cannot control.

Too big to bat

The baking is for a charity cricket match in Glasgow. One of my closest colleagues stages the event every year in memory of his late brother, who was profoundly disabled. The family set up a charity after his death that helps disabled children in Africa – both by gifting sporting equipment, and by bringing delegations of children over to Britain. The next group will be coming from Sierra Leone and today’s match has managed not just to bring the family clan together, but also the cream of Scottish political journalism and the actual opening batsman of the Scottish international cricket team.

The weather is cold and wet, the wicket is rutted, the bowling is little short of buffet-style pie chucking and there is a prolonged pitch invasion from a spaniel. None of it matters as keen teenagers, middle-aged dreamers and rheumatic veterans all pitch in. At nearly eight months pregnant, I said I’d contribute to the teas as I was now too big to bat. I reckon I could have got away with a cameo at the crease…

It is one of the warmest, loveliest gatherings I’ve been to in a while and it means I can forget about all the commentary and dissection swirling around social media for a few hours. The cake and meringues were polished off in about 60 seconds.

Dignity and determination

Most parliamentarians will tell you that the best thing about being a politician is having the ability to raise the cases of ordinary people in public, giving them a leg up to speak to the powerful. One such is the Stewart family from Ayrshire. Their daughter (and sister), Michelle, was murdered at the age of 17. The killer was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 12 years. But a few months ago, years ahead of deadline, Michelle’s relatives were informed that he was to be given temporary release.

With their permission, I’ve now raised Michelle’s case at First Minister’s Questions on two occasions. They want to introduce “Michelle’s Law”, giving victims and their families more rights in relation to the parole and early release system in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has responded positively.

After a recent FMQs, I caught up with the family for a cup of tea. Kenny, Michelle’s father, is still raw with grief. He has a quiet dignity and determination that takes the breath away. We shook hands and agreed to speak soon. I have no idea what Kenny or the rest of the Stewart family think about Scottish politics or Brexit or any of the issues that occupy so much of my waking thoughts. I don’t want to know, either. Just giving their case a wider hearing is enough for me.

May’s flash of steel

On Friday, I’m in my parliamentary office, watching as the Prime Minister gives a statement at No 10 on the previous night’s meeting of EU heads of state in Salzburg. It’s been a bruising 24 hours for Theresa May, with the positive mood music leading up to the summit giving way to robust statements from, among others, Emmanuel Macron; as well as the oddest bit of cake-based internet trolling I’ve ever seen, courtesy of Donald Tusk’s Instagram feed. (He captioned an image of himself offering May a dessert: “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.”) The PM is clear in her points and there’s a flash of steel in there, too. Good.

She gives the office a call and we discuss the current impasse and what happens next. It has become a cliché for colleagues to recognise May’s resilience. But it is genuinely remarkable to watch her absorb all of the pressure that something as enormous as Brexit exerts, without it seeming to impact on her personal tenacity to keep plugging away on behalf of the country.

Off to baby school

The weekend is spent in baby school, otherwise known as the National Childbirth Trust course my partner has signed us up for. As well as discussing all the various birthing options (I’ve been trying to ignore how and why decisions about pain relief should be examined in advance) there’s been a good dose of practicality. I go straight from changing a doll with a realistic-looking splodge of mustard in its nappy to Waverley station to grab the next train to London.

I try to empty my head of birth plans and mental notes to order some wall stickers for the baby’s room and start to prep for the upcoming pre-Budget meeting at the Treasury. It’s going to be an odd year. l

Ruth Davidson is leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and the author of “Yes She Can: Why Women Own The Future”

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Brexit crisis