Although the Conservatives are in power at Westminster, Scottish Conservatives have been something of an endangered species for quite some time. Given the party’s less than sterling history on gay rights, it came as a surprise to some that there are now more openly gay Tories gracing Parliament’s benches than any other political party. North of the border, the party can now point to another reason to believe that it has shed its ‘nasty party’ image in the LGBT community, with the recent election of Ruth Davidson MSP. Davidson is now Holyrood’s only lesbian MSP, after Lib Dem Margaret Smith lost her seat to the SNP.
Davidson, a former BBC journalist, represents the Glasgow region, and lives in Partick with her partner. Just over a month after assuming her seat in Holyrood, she spoke exclusively to So So Gay about her election, her conservatism and her hopes for Scotland.
SSG: Congratulations on your election to the Scottish Parliament. How have your first few weeks in office been?
Ruth Davidson MSP: Manic! It’s a strange time. I’ve been trying to sort out an office and a team, and familiarise myself with the Outlook system; the same things that everyone goes through when they start a new job. But I’m also preparing for my maiden speech and there’s a reception with the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay [Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s titles in Scotland] to prepare for.
Why did you stand for election, and what do you hope to achieve for your constituents during your time in office?
I was one of those who came forward when David Cameron went on the Andrew Marr show and said ‘We want candidates that have had a real life’; not career politicians who’ve been the social secretary of the local Conservative branch for twenty-odd years, but people who have Conservative values and think that they might be able to give something to the party. I was a journalist before I entered politics, so I was always questioning the decisions that politicians were making, and it was a natural progression to make the transition to this side of the fence.
Glasgow is a fantastic, vibrant city: however, it has significant problems. We’ve huge issues with things like life expectancy, health outcomes and educational attainment. There are problems that we need to deal with. I want to speak up for Glasgow at Edinburgh, and ensure that it gets the attention that it needs, and I want to ensure that we make progress on the issues that are holding the city back. I also want to be a part of the big Conservative voice at a national level.
What do you think the Conservative Party in Scotland needs to do to grow its support north of the border?
We need to reach out to groups of people that we haven’t formally embraced. I think we’re seen to talk too much to ourselves. The David Cameron revolution that happened down south doesn’t seem to have hit Scotland; we need to be able to embody a new type of Conservatism, one that’s modern and in touch and understands what families need. The Conservatives have a huge opportunity in Scotland; a lot of people who voted for Alex Salmond don’t believe in independence. They’re the sort of floating voters that won’t stay with him forever and there’s a huge base there that we can tap into.
Many of our readers will still associate the Conservative Party with Section 28. Do you think that the party has managed to shake off its spectre, and has it really changed in its attitudes towards the LGBT community?
I think we’ve gone a long way towards shaking off that image. When David Cameron became party leader he stood up in front of a Stonewall audience and said ‘I apologise for Section 28, we got it wrong’; that’s pretty unequivocal. The policy has been reversed and we’ve moved on. The Conservative Party as a parliamentary group has more gay representatives than the other main parties put together, and I think there’s huge support for the party amongst the LGBT community; you’ve just got to look at our membership. We’ve said that we’re sorry for Section 28. I don’t think that there’s much more to do on the issue.
I’m sure that it will have left an indelible spectre over the party in some peoples’ minds, and there are people who will always hold it against the party because they don’t like the party or they don’t like the party’s stance on something, and they can’t let it go. It’s probably the same as how Clause 4 has obstructed the Labour Party, but we have to move on. I certainly believe that the Party has changed in its attitudes towards the community; I wouldn’t be a part of it if I didn’t.
You’re not the first lesbian MSP, but you’re currently the only sitting lesbian MSP. Do you feel that that gives you an obligation not just to your regional constituents, but to the lesbian community more widely in Scotland?
I’m not sure. First and foremost I’m a regional MSP. If other people want to invite me to things as a lesbian MSP then I’m happy to attend and I’m happy to speak up. I’m very open about my background and what I am. Have I attended pride rallies, have I done stuff to do with the community? Yes I have. Is that the only policy area I’m interested in? No, it’s not.