Getting on with the Day Job

This week former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson faced mounting calls to quit as an MSP over her £50,000 second job with a PR firm. These cries are set to increase as it further emerged she has also set up her own consultancy business, and that one would fund the other. “Get on with the day job” just doesn’t have the same ring to it any more. Davidson’s descent from the Greatest First Minister We Never Had, or, alternatively, A Prime Minister in Waiting, depending on what gushing hagiography you read, has been swift.
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In one such memorable article (“Why Ruth Davidson is Heading for Westminster“, New Statesman 29 May 2018) Chris Deerin speculated she would return after maternity leave “with a bang” (readers it was a whimper). Deerin fantasizes “…there will be around two years until the 2021 devolved election, which will decide what she does next, and she will be chafing at the reins. She could conceivably, at that point, become first minister as leader of the largest party”.
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Many have tried to define the effectiveness of Davidson’s career.
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Deerin suggested:
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“…she is the genuine article, the real deal, a politician of surpassing talent. She is built for the big stage: charismatic, funny, as sharp as a shipyard put-down. She works for audiences in Scotland because she is ordinary and has a bit of patter, and she works in the southern shires because she has that recognisable trait of can-do, not-buggering-about, up-and-at-‘em spirit. She wasn’t in the Territorial Army for nothing: as Wodehouse describes Bertie Wooster’s love interest Honoria Glossop: “one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welterweight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge.”
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Barely able to conceal his excitement, Deerin ended:
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“I’d bet money, though, that Ruth Davidson will end up at Westminster. She’s too young, too talented, and too ambitious to sit on the opposition benches at Holyrood for much longer. She has the chops for the big offices of state, and, as has been noted by many, the kind of liberal instincts and personal charm that can attract voters from across the political spectrum. So, to my English friends: not now, not this decade, but soon. She’s coming. Prepare yourselves.”
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Chris Deerin was not alone in hyper-ventilating about Davidson’s talents. Perhaps she appealed to the sort of Conservative Party these scribes longed for, not the sort of Conservative Party we endure. But Brexit has delivered all of the nightmares rolled into one, even if the Scottish commentariat doesn’t want to quite face that truth. The reality of Davidson’s departure is that she couldn’t stomach the government we have to, and her balancing act of acting as a human shield for the toxicity of her own party, whilst simultaneously entertaining the charade of her own social liberalism became impossible to maintain.
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As she departed a barrage of puff pieces appeared bemoaning the difficulties of a work-life balance (the Scottish Mail on Sunday said she referred to difficulties when “a childcare crisis or unexpected work commitment will mean the two worlds have to collide”), the iniquity to women and mums and the great public servant she’d been (despite the overwhelming evidence she’s a terrible constituency MSP).
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So the revelations this week that she’s to take a lucrative post in lobbying firm Tulchan Communications had a bad smell about it.
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In an interview with the Evening Standard newspaper published yesterday (24 October), it was confirmed that Davidson will be paid £50,000 for 24 days’ work a year by Tulchan Communications, the managing partner of which is Tory fundraiser Andrew Feldman. This salary would be in addition to the £63,579 she already earns as an MSP.
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Even the director of the UK’s largest PR trade body thinks this was a bad idea: “It is simply wrong for lobbying agencies to employ legislators. The possible conflict of interest in doing so is clear.” PRCA director general Francis Ingham described it as “wholly unethical”  to employ Ruth Davidson while she is an MSP.
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In the simplest terms the MSP code of conduct says that MSPs “should not accept any paid work which would involve them lobbying” or “to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
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Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who is putting forward at Member’s Bill at Holyrood to prevent MSPs from having a second job, also called on Davidson to resign, saying: “Ruth Davidson’s actions bring the Scottish Parliament into disrepute.
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“Instead of standing up for her constituents in parliament she will be standing up for the firms that her bosses are paid to lobby for.

*“You cannot be a parliamentarian and a highly paid lobbyist at the same time.”

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These sentiments were echoed by Alison Johnston of the Scottish Greens and SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald who called it: “a monumental misjudgement from Ruth Davidson, who simply cannot be allowed to accept cash from a lobbying firm while continuing to sit as an MSP.”
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Others have been less generous.
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Adam Ramsay has called it “corruption”, arguing:
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“In many countries, this would be seen as utterly shocking. Democracy can’t work if elected politicians sell access to themselves, their platforms and their influence. This is why, in the past, politicians were smuggled wads of cash in brown envelopes: when they wanted to undermine the democracy that gave them power and paid their wages, they had to do so in secret. But in modern Britain, Davidson doesn’t need to be surreptitious. She knows she can rely on a pliant newspaper, run by one of her mates, to break the story in a friendly way. After all, her experience of funding significant electoral success with large piles of dark money consisted largely of being lauded by the media.”
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He’s right of course and this is why the story of Davidson’s political demise is closely linked to the other story of the week, Peter Oborne’s expose of the “No 10 Sources” scandal – the faithful handing down of whispers and gossip straight out of the Prime Ministers inner cabal. Oborne slated – amongst others  Nick Robinson on the BBC’s flagship Today programme for engaging in No 10 fantasies about an investigation into ‘foreign collusion’ of Remain MPs that simply didn’t exist; BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s for being an accomplice-journalist and Robert Peston for effectively being a conduit to Dominic Cummings messages.
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But it’s not just that our media is broken at the time of our greatest need. Politics itself has become an arena in which actors and media spinners thrive way above anyone of any substance. Populist politics and clickbait media go hand-in-hand, over the cliff, taking us down with them. Davidson is the creation of such a world which combines a calculated superficiality with a murky lack of transparency.  Everything is appearance. The thin line between politician and journalist is being eroded, as more and more slip seamlessly from one profession to the next. Davidson is one example but so too are Nigel Lawson, Ed Balls, and indeed our own current Prime Minister.
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There may be a reckoning coming though. The Scottish Conservatives poured so much into the Davidson brand it is bereft without it. As a Christmas General Election looms the Scottish Tories will have to fight it with Davidson’s departure still in the air and the arrival of her replacement unlikely to give even a dead cat bounce. The reality is that the raft of MPs that is frequently given as her greatest achievement are such an embarrassment they face annihilation. Ross Thomson, Douglas Ross, Kirsten Hair and Co are Davidson’s legacy. The miasma of Davidson’s leadership has been so dominant that her replacements are low-grade non-entities that no-one has ever heard of. Having put such great energy into the cult of personality politics this is a problem for the Tories in Scotland, teetering on the brink of Johnsonian oblivion.
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Davidson’s career may have some usefulness if it serves to represent everything that is wrong and broken about our politics and how this is only possible with a pliant press, allured to personality and failing in the most basic terms.

Comments (10)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I suspect Mr Deerin is right when he says she will go to Westminster. She has the kind of connections – even though it is with the currently eclipsed Messrs Cameron and Osborne – that will find her a safe seat somewhere in the south or south east.

    Indeed, if a GE comes soon, she might well be in Westminster by the end of the year. I suspect she would refuse to resign from Holyrood – it would avoid a bye-election which the SNP would win and, the £65K would help pay for a nanny and future school fees for the child. She will probably get a regular column in the Scotsman, Herald or Scottish Daily Mail – perhaps all three – to tell us how baaaaad the SG is and why Holyrood should be neutered.

    1. Maybe she will but her time in Scotland is over and I’m not sure she’d get the free pass in England as she does here, especially if she’s given any kind of responsibility for anything.

    2. MBC says:

      She absolutely doesn’t want to work for or under Boris and the feeling appears to be mutual. So I cannot see how she could be selected for a safe English seat as long as Johnstone is in power, which will be for some time, regrettably. She is a mooth, her forte, if you can call it that, so I suspect getting a column more likely in a yoon paper.

    3. Bill says:

      Surely she is not a hypocrite and capable of falsehood. She did say that she was standing down from politics due to family commitments.

      Or did I miss something?

  2. John S Warren says:

    A “world which combines a calculated superficiality with a murky lack of transparency” trenchantly describes the world in which we now live. It is striking, however how quickly the Ruth Davidson Party (once known as the Conservative and Unionist Party) has simply disappeared, overnight, without even a puff of smoke or an obituary; removed not only from public presence, but from all human memory. “But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two” (Hamlet; Act 1, Scene 2).

    Did it ever exist; did we just imagine it? The thirteen Conservative MPs have clearly never heard of her; not a mark left there. Ruth who? Meanwhile, in Holyrood the crude faux-liberal populism of Davidson has reverted to a much more authentically Scottish Conservative representation of the real values of the gerontocratic membership of the Party, for whom Davidson was not really to their taste, save as a media-friendly ‘loss-leader’ softening the Westminster text of Old Testament political economy: now under the direction of the rightful, male, stale, permanently angry-about-everything vacuity of Jackson Carlaw; delivered as the stone-deaf membership, peeping out from behind their anonymous net curtains, prefer their leadership represents them; blustering, loud, self-righteous, dismissive, anti-intelllectual and crass. That will show ‘em.

  3. Craig Fraser says:

    Surely someone MSP preferably or other should make a complaint to the standards commission? I am a councillor in a Scottish Local Authority and sit on one of the planning committees it has been drummed into us ‘The Standards Commission for Scotland Guidance on the Councillors Code of Conduct – section 6 Lobbying and access to councillors – 6.3 states “If you are lobbied on such matters you should make it clear that you are not in a position to lend support for or against any such application……….. Section 7 Taking Decisions On Quasi-Judicial or Regulatory Applications 7.12 states “If you have an interest, whether financial or non-financial, in the outcome of a decision etc you must refrain from taking part in the decision. I am not a legal person or very knowledgeable in these matters. But, looking at this from a layman’s point this second job must create many conflicts of interest and on that point her position as an MSP is untenable? You can do one but not the other so take your pick?

  4. Jo says:

    Can’t really add much to this. Well said Mike. What I can’t understand is why no one seems willing to bring the complaint required. Davidson is going to great lengths to claim the authorities ok’d the arrangement. That surely needs looked at too.

    I’ve never felt more depressed about politics but have to say that what’s passing for journalism now depresses me even more. It is infested with dishonest people.

    Today, looking at the latest on Brexit I’m resigned to our fate. For the Observer is full of the fighting going on within the group of Parties supposedly opposing Johnson. It would make you weep.

    Swinson, who loves to be seen as the Great Hope, is in fact a real piece of work, who oversaw the release of a vile poster on Friday bearing a WW2 slogan and intended to smear Corbyn as a collaborator. Throughout her time so far she is being very careful not to upset the Tories too much. After all, there could be another coalition coming there and she so enjoyed the last one! How I would love Scotland to take her seat again like in 2015.

    In the Guardian’s Comments, English folk frequently say how lucky we are in Scotland because we can walk away. Yes, in theory we can but the debate up here doesn’t inspire hope there either!

  5. Muiris says:

    Excellent article, if depressing. My only cavil being the use of the word ‘earn’ for being paid £50K for 24 days ‘work’. Unearned income more likely.

    1. James Mills says:

      ”Pin Money ” used to be the pejorative term invoked when discussing a woman earning some money of her own . This ”unearned” income by Davidson is simply a sinecure , deferred payment for all her help in securing a Tory Government at the last GE.
      It will tide her over until the world at large comes to its senses and promotes her , like Boris , to the role that she was born for and , indeed , entitled Queen of the World !

    2. James Mills says:

      ”Pin Money ” used to be the pejorative term invoked when discussing a woman earning some money of her own . This ”unearned” income by Davidson is simply a sinecure , deferred payment for all her help in securing a Tory Government at the last GE.
      It will tide her over until the world at large comes to its senses and promotes her , like Boris , to the role that she was born for and , indeed , entitled-
      Queen of the World !

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