Ruth Davidson and the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories” by Andrew Liddle, Biteback, £18.99

Review by Iain Macwhirter

There are two views of Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader and we're often told, the next UK leader. To some, she is a dedicated, liberal moderniser, who has stood against the gammon tendency in her party, spoken truth to power in Number Ten, and de-detoxified the Tory brand. This seems to be the view of the journalist, and Labour spin-doctor, Andrew Liddle. To many others, Ms Davidson is a butterfly-brained charlatan, who believes in nothing except her own self-promotion, and her penchant for racy innuendo. She certainly has that.

At a lobby lunch in Westminster in 2016, she delivered a stand-up routine describing Labour's leadership difficulties over Jeremy Corbyn: “Labour's still fumbling with its flies while the Tories are enjoying a post-coital cigarette after withdrawing our massive Johnson”. There are few Tory political leaders who could get away with describing the Foreign Secretary as, well, a dick. Boisterous banter is one of her unique selling points. Politicians often have to make grovelling apologies for the slightest sexual innuendo, but not Ruth.

She is genuinely funny and convivial, and has a sharp tongue. You can't help warming to a politician who described Donald Trump in 2015 (following Shakespeare) as a “clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch”. If she makes it to Number Ten, the US President just might remember that.

So, Davidson is the ideal political chat-show host, and has embraced celebrity politics by appearing on Have I Got News For You and Celebrity Bake Off. She says she would die to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. “I would be spangled, I would make sure that I am spray-tanned, the frock, the heels, everything”. Kezia Dugdale was vilified for her foray into celebrity politics on “I'm A Celebrity”. Ruth Davidson is held to rather different standards.

But the question has to be asked: is she any more than a comedy turn, a chat show act? I remember her as a BBC Scotland radio presenter, and a very good one: clear headed, smart without being intellectual, and without a trace of the self-consciousness that trips up so many intelligent people when they are confronted by a microphone. She would have gone far.

She has gone far in politics, in a very short time, taking the moribund Scottish Tory party in seven years from obscurity to opposition in Holyrood, and gaining a dozen seats in last year's Westminster elections. She leads more MPs than the DUP, and could bring down the May government just as easily as Arlene Foster. But in her political views she lacks consistency. As Andrew Liddle makes clear, Ruth has been all over the shop.

She began her leadership in 2011 demanding “lines in the sand” against further devolution, and was, Liddle reveals, “f***ing furious” about the 2014 Vow because it offered new powers to Holyrood. Then she went on to argue for something like devo max. She started life as a conventional tax-cutting Tory but is now lecturing Number Ten on the need to put spending on the NHS as a priority over tax cuts. Yet, when the Scottish government did precisely this, she attacked it as “punishing hard work and aspiration”.

She stood against Tory leadership rival Murdo Fraser's proposal in 2011 for the Scottish Tories to break from the UK Conservative Party but, according to Liddle, seriously contemplated a Scottish Tory breakaway after Brexit, when Boris Johnson was looking like a future UK Tory leader. After initially opposing the “power grab” in the EU Withdrawal Bill, she now argues in favour of letting the UK government appropriate a range of Holyrood's key devolved powers.

In one area, Ruth Davidson is undoubtedly a conviction politician: her sexuality. No one should under-estimate the difficulty she must have faced as a young gay woman in an old, male-dominated party. Her Christianity probably helped here, since that gave her a recognisable moral hinterland that they could relate to, as did her much vaunted army career. She is strong on foreign aid and civil liberties, and argued vehemently against Theresa May's plan to scrap the European Convention on Human Rights. Nor has she ever wavered in her support for the European Union, despite being on the losing side in the referendum.

This is a workmanlike biography, which tells you all you need to know about Ruth Davidson, but contains few revelations or original insights. It bends over backwards to give the Scottish Tory leader the benefit of the doubt – Davidson seems to have that effect on journalists. Liddle repeatedly commends her powers of leadership, her resolution under fire. He even defends her u-turns. “She is often seemingly willing to take radical – indeed entirely contradictory positions”, he concedes, but goes on to justify this as: ”prudent strategy....As part of her military training (in the TA) she would have been schooled in altering tactics to deliver victory”

Will she go on to be leader of the UK party? Liddle seems to think that resolute Ruth will do her duty and stick to her post. “She would be reluctant to ditch Scottish politics just as the UK faced perhaps its greatest challenge”, he says referring to indyref2. “That is simply not Ruth’s style”. It's not often that political leaders get such high approval ratings from scribes employed by an opposing party. Maybe she should hire him.