This could be in a Ladybird series. What happens when a politician used to meeting sycophantic, soft-boiled journalists under-arming questions to her meets someone who hasn’t got the memo? This is ‘Ruth Meets a Journalist’…
Though not as obvious a car crash interview as Dianne Abbot’s frequent exemplars, for those used to her buoyant blustering, there can be no doubt that Ruth Davidson’s BBC 5 Live interview this week left her rattled – even to the extent of accusing the BBC (yes, BBC) journalist of doing the work of the SNP.
Emma Barnett’s deceptively laid back and friendly interview technique exposed Davidon’s hyprocisy and left her floundering on countless issues, from Boris and Brexit to child poverty and the constitution, the rape clause and immigration.
The first sign that this wasn’t going to be your normal fawning over the leader of the ‘Tory revival’ style BBC interview came when Ruth’s tired opening rant about the SNP’s constitutional obsession was interrupted with the following: ‘I’m happy you brought that up, because I was going to ask, are you obsessed with the question of independence for Scotland?” The interviewer then highlighted a Tory local election leaflet which mentioned Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP, or independence a grand total of 43 times – whilst containing nothing about local issues such as education, concluding with ‘Are you actually obsessed with independence as an issue?”
Ruth’s fumbling inability to explain how this did not represent a party obsessed with the constitution left her looking rather, well, obsessed with the constitution, and, given her
own opening spiel, guilty of some quite staggering hypocrisy to boot.
So far so bad.
But this was only the beginning.
Clearly unsatisfied with Ruth’s claim not to be obsessed by the constitution, the interviewer asked her what sort of policies the Scottish Conservatives were offering the people of Scotland at the forthcoming General Election. Their priorities were education, the economy, and public services, said Ruth.
Of course, education is an entirely devolved issue and thus unaffected by the outcome of the vote on the 8th June, as are much of Scotland’s public services. On the economy, with apparently no hint of irony, Ruth said that the difference between the UK and the Scottish economy was that one was being hurt by constitutional uncertainty and one wasn’t. And yes, you guessed, she wasn’t taking about Brexit, but the prospect of a second referendum on independence.
The interview then moved on to Tory target seats for June, with the interviewer citing ‘Alex Salmond’s constituency’ as one of them. At this point, Ruth petulantly interrupted with ‘it’s not his constituency, he just happens to be the MP at the moment’, before chuckling awkwardly as the interviewer, somewhat bemused, pointed out how that is the common definition of it being ‘his constiuency’. A desparate, and failed, intervention if ever there was one.
And things were still just warming up. It was now time for Brexit, which left once ardent Remainder Ruth Davidson scrambling to defend her recent evangelical conversion to born-again-Brexiteer. For it’s one thing to accept a democratic result, and quite another to suddenly discard all of the arguments you once belived in to unqestioningly advocate those of the other side as if they had been your own deeply held beliefs all along.
Ruth Davidson’s now consistent claims that the EU is bad for Scotland would be a lot more credible had she not spent 2016 as cheerleader-in-chief for the Remain campaign. As would her claims that she and Boris share a very good relationship, despite her publicly accusing him of being a huge and serial liar just last year – one of the most gloriously awkward parts of a generally akward interview.
Next up was immigration, where Ruth Davidson mounted a passionate case for more immigration to Scotland, whilst failing to explain how Scotland can reasonably be expected to achieve this when the UK Tory Govt is hell bent on reducing immigeation to the tens of thousands. ‘But you’re not going to get any more migrants if she (the PM) achieves this goal for the UK as a whole?’, the interviewer pointed out, understandably confused by the confusing Tory line. Attempting a more straightforward approach, Emma then asked what sort of numbers the Scottish Tories would want to see come to Scotland, and what percentage of UK migration. Unsurprisingly, however, she did not get a straightforward answer, with Ruth Davidson saying that it’s ‘not about numbers’ for her, even though it is for her leader. After some back and forth on this, the genuinely beleagured interviewer, whose head you could almost see in her hands, gave up, saying ‘I genuinely don’t get it, how are you going to get more when the overall number is being cut by the Prime Minister’?
And all of this was before we even got to the rape clause, which, for anyone who has been following Scottish politics recently, was essentially a painful continuation of the Tory argument that this is the most ‘sensitive’ way to administer the exemption – whilst entirely missing the point that there is no sensitive way to force a women to prove that she has been raped in order to claim support for her children.
Moving on to the two child cap itself, the interviewer cited claims that the policy will damage the ‘Just About Managing’ class that Theresa May is allegedly out to help – a point made even by The Spectator, hardly a bastion of left-wing politics, in a recent editorial.
Thinking that she could move this back onto safe ground, Ruth proudly cited UK wide figures showing that child poverty had gone down– only for it to be quickly pointed out that it had increased by 40,000 on last year in Scotland. You see, it only suits the Scottish Tories to cite bad figures in Scotland when they’re devolved issues – not when they’re clearly the results of damaging Westminster welfare policies rejected by the majority in Scotland.
Ruth Davidson’s fumbling in response clearly failed to convince the interviewer that the results of UK Tory welfare policy were all the SNP’s fault. ‘I don’t understand’, said poor Emma, restating that welfare is not devolved, and yet there are 40, 000 more children living in poverty in Scotland than there were last year…
Neither do we, Emma, neither do we.
Realising that she’d pushed a button with this line, though, Emma went in for the gentle kill:
‘Is that not uncomfortable for you, that they [Scottish Government] have to spend money that is devolved to Scotland on getting people out of a bad place that the Government in Westminster has put them in – your Government?’
‘That might be a very nice SNP press release that you’ve read out but that’s not the situation in Scotland’ – responded Ruth, finally beaten.
Of course, that is very much the situation, and despite the Scottish Tories’ best efforts to convince people otherwise, the mask is well and truly slipping.