A PARTY political broadcast can be many things: a show of confidence or an agonising reappraisal, a bad gag, a nervous pivot or an all-out war on your opponents. Only a handful of voters may take to their couches to really contemplate what political parties do with the free air they’ve been given – but PPBs always open a window into a party’s strategic thinking, and its anxieties. Perceived as too weak? Project strength. Strains of Elgar. Strategically placed bulldog. Too heartless? Lay on the compassion thick. Friendly melodies. Vaseline on the lens. So what’s worrying Ruth Davidson?

If this week’s Scottish Tory PPB is anything to go by, Davidson is concerned her blue collar needs starching. Its message was simple: Scottish Tories are normal. No plus fours here, no bleeding stags. No old school ties or great tracts of land. This week’s broadcast opens with ordinary Glaswegian Annie Wells MSP driving her ordinary car down an ordinary street on an ordinary dreich Glasgow day. The camera cuts to another ordinary kitchen table, where ordinary Tory MP Bill Grant bids farewell to an ordinary pensioner. Pentland Hills councillor, Susan Webber, leaves her ordinary house to embark on another ordinary day in her ordinary job.

You catch the drift. The Marks and Spencer worker, the state-schooled councillor, the fireman with 30 years of public service under his utility belt – these aren’t exactly characters from Tory central casting. Where are the scions of privilege, I hear you cry? The private schoolers and the Oxbridge educators, the corporate lawyers and the tobacco barons, the bankers and


Indeed, these new Tories seemed to have forgotten they are Tories altogether. The MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock – apparently – believes his party’s policy is “to increase the tax-take to put people into jobs in order that we can raise the tax revenue to fund our hospitals properly, to fund our police properly.” Try to integrate this with Tory policy, and the cognitive dissonance may cause your frontal lobes to split. If you detect Arthur Laffer’s discredited economic curve behind this bait and switch bit of politics, your cynicism will be well rewarded.

What is striking is: the whole tone of the broadcast is deeply unpolitical. It presents a vision of politics as common-sense litter-picking, where taking a shammy to the road sign welcoming drivers to the historical royal burgh of Ayr represents a critical part of a parliamentarian’s functions.

“Everyone’s divisive but me” is an entertaining pitch – rooted as the Scottish Tories’ relative success has been, in the political friction generated by the independence referendum – but the promise to dampen the background noise of Scottish politics is an essential part of the political escapism Ruth Davidson has been peddling.

Admonishing the Scottish Government to “get on with the day job” might be read as a call to focus on domestic priorities rather than constitutional concerns. But a critical subtext of this Scottish Tory battle cry is: vote for us, and we’ll make it all go away. Given the constant noise of the past half decade, I reckon this political quietism is something a number of Scots would be happy to embrace.

But at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, the idea that all you need to make a difference in politics is a little goodwill and a servant’s heart is profoundly stupid. Politics, for all its distracting plays of personality, for all of its the windbaggery and hypocrisy, is ultimately a matter of ideas and ideologies.

And if your policy priorities remain shifting social burdens away from the wealthiest? If your political preoccupations are private schools which only five per cent of kids attend, and top rates of tax which only 10 per cent of the population are liable to pay – the notion that you speak for the common man and woman because one of your MP’s dad was a miner, and Annie Wells comes from Springburn, is bleakly comic.

I don’t doubt Wells or Grant sincerely believe the positions they have come to advocate, but providing emotional cover for the wealthiest Scots to feel like victims seems a grisly way to use your working-class biography.

What is entertaining about this, if you’re heartless enough to see the parallel, is that the Scottish Tory pitch is predicated on precisely the kind of emotive identity politics which causes right-wing columnists and Spectator writers to pop a kidney. Ignore our positions, the Tory PPB says. Ignore who actually stands to benefit from our policies. Focus instead on whether Ruth Davidson’s parents paid for her education and Annie Wells’ background in food retail. Consider what I am, not what I do.

Juxtapose this couthy image of plain loaf Scottish conservatism with ongoing developments in London, and you risk choking on your Bovril. Let me remind you that the runaway favourite to replace this stricken Prime Minister – when the Tory party finally releases her back into her natural habitat – is Jacob Rees-Mogg. A Conservative Home poll, published this week, shows that the MP for North-East Somerset can expect the support of almost a quarter of Tory members, in the event of a leadership crisis. As Alex Massie reflected in a recent Times column, Moggmania may ebb, but the idea of putting your faith in the sound judgment of 100,000 ancient and irascible Tory members does not fill my soul with optimism.

Every successful politician has their schtick. Since 2015, Ruth Davidson’s has been crystal clear. She stands, we’re told, in “the centre-ground of Scottish politics, based around the principles of an old-fashioned blue-collar Conservatism.”

Most commentators have been happy to accept this self-diagnosis, but years into her leadership of her party, with considerable electoral successes under her belt, Davidson seems to have developed her ideas no further than a slogan and a cynical PPB.

One of the most telling – and overlooked – moments of this Holyrood session was the Scottish Tory response to the Budget. If you were blue-collar Ruth, facing the first major shift in Scottish tax policy in decades, wouldn’t you take serious care to have some kind of coherent policy which speaks to the overwhelming majority of Scots? Wouldn’t you avoid same-old, same-old performances, which might imply than you remain the parliamentary voice of professionals of men and women with big houses, and school fees to pay? Any serious-minded political operator would, I’d suggest, see the dangers and the opportunities here. Given the chance to give blue collar Ruth a bit of policy substance, what did the Tories do? Bafflingly, they unleashed Darth Murdo, who rehearsed all the dark side’s familiar hits, without even a hint that Ruth’s new Tory agenda is any different from the old Tory agenda pursued by any of her predecessors.

There have been aspirational grace notes around education policy, but little coherence in policy, particularly when aspiration clashes with the interests of traditional Tory constituencies. It is one thing to advocate for greater university access for the poorest, but the party can also be relied upon to stump up hysterical quotations about punishing middle class children, whenever we moot practical steps to get disadvantaged young folk into university classes by focusing on their academic potential, rather than just their achievements they’ve been able to ratchet up in secondary school. When it comes down to it, when circumstances demand – who’s side are you on? – the Scottish Tories reliably wobble back to the interests of their base.

You don’t have to be a toff to be a Tory, but until Davidson gives Scots concrete evidence of a shift in her agenda, until blue collar Toryism means something substantive on tax and spend, the cynic will only see a grand old party, again using working people to push the same grand old economic interests.