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ALASDAIR CLARK: The return of Ruth Davidson, and the postal vote election

Baroness Ruth Davidson has been brought back to help the party in a tough election.

Ruth Davidson
Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

As the Scottish Conservatives limp towards polling day they have called in Ruth Davidson in a bid to shore up support.

In her first major intervention since Rishi Sunak set the date for the general election, the Baroness of Lundin Links urged voters to shatter the SNP’s dream of independence.

And explaining some motivation, she shared her desire to watch Nicola Sturgeon react to bad results while appearing as a pundit on ITV’s election night coverage.

“I don’t want to give her that satisfaction,” she wrote in the Daily Mail. “I want to switch on the telly that night and see her face as she realises her push for independence is finished.

Ruth Davidson with Douglas Ross.

Lady Davidson will also write to hundreds of thousands of Scots in key target seats, a sign the Scottish Conservatives understand her ability to reach voters.

In 2016, Lady Davidson, now a member of the House of Lords, took her party from third place in Holyrood to become the official opposition to the SNP.

One the lowest points in Scottish Labour’s demise after the 2014 referendum, Ms Davidson increased her party’s share of the vote by over 10%, relegating Labour.

It came after she led years of reform inside the Scottish Tories, changing the party’s structures and policy on social issues.

Irony in calling on Ruth Davidson for support

Given her electoral record, it’s clear why the struggling Scottish Conservatives are keen for Ms Davidson, who attended Buckhaven High School, to sell their message.

So it’s not without irony that the UK party seems likely to search for a replacement leader in the mold of Ms Davidson to replace Rishi Sunak and Douglas Ross.

Instead, as they learn the lessons from what the polls predict will be an historic defeat, the Conservative Party looks likely to run to the right.

Tories will embrace Nigel Farage over Ruth Davidson ‘cold, dead corpse’

It may even choose to embrace Reform leader Nigel Farage, depending on his own performance at the ballot box, though Ms Davidson told her Sky podcast Electoral Dysfunction this would be “imbecilic” and would only happen over her “cold, dead corpse”.

While supporters of Ms Davidson view such a move by the party as unlikely to cause a defection, they did concede it would prompt pause for thought for the former Scottish leader and members in her wing of the party.

In Scotland, where Mr Ross has already announced his plans to stand down, figures such as North East MSP Maurice Golden are thought of as representing Ms Davidson’s more socially liberal conservatism.

North East MSP Maurice Golden. Image: Richard Gardner/Shutterstock

Mr Golden has not announced his candidacy publicly, and I understand he is yet to make a decision privately on whether he will enter the race, with MSPs focussed on the election campaign.

Tory insiders predict the contest to replace Douglas Ross could be long, especially if the party is searching for a new UK leader to replace a defeated Rishi Sunak.

Having a new leadership team in place before the end of the year will provide his successor a chance to build the party’s platform ahead of the 2026 Scottish Parliament election.

Party sources also predict centre-ground MSPs such as Mr Golden and Jamie Greene could even benefit from the UK party lurching to the right.

All too aware the party has performed best when it fights elections from the centre, the new leader may opt for such a strategy as they attempt to make progress in Holyrood.

The postal vote election

Expect the campaign to intensify from next week as postal ballots for the general election begin to land on doorsteps around the country.

Around 21% of votes at the last election in 2019 were cast by post or by proxy, and political insiders suggest this is likely to increase this year.

In some constituencies, as many as 30% of voters may opt to cast a postal vote ahead of polling day on July 4.

Postal votes will arrive in the next two weeks. Image: Shutterstock

The increase in absentee ballots is likely to be especially pronounced in Scotland, with the election timed in the first week of the school holiday when families may be heading abroad.

In many constituencies, including Dundee where polls predict a knife-edge result, the result may well be decided by those early ballots.

In 2017, I remember watching on as the SNP and Liberal Democrats battled it out at the election count for the North East Fife constituency.

The SNP eventually secured a majority of just two votes, an extraordinarily close race.

Westminster hopefuls will be well aware of how tight the contest may be, with a sense every vote is up for grabs, and know that post ballots could prove decisive.

The most sensible candidates will doubling down on efforts to convince potential constituents before its too late.