What can Conservatives and Unionists learn from Ruth Davidson?

Will Burstow is Director of Constitutional Affairs for Parliament Street

4480We now know the scale of results of Ruth Davidson’s long awaited recovery of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, it’s beholden upon us as Conservatives and Unionists to not just sit back in awe and enjoy Ruth’s resounding victory, but to learn lessons in how we can make our own campaigns across the UK better, especially as it is so tempting to rest on our laurels considering the difficulties Labour are in over Jeremy Corbyn. So let’s look at some of the key things that delivered for Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservative and Unionists at Holyrood.

Strong messaging breeds results

Ruth went into this election with a very clear message and kept repeating it every chance she got. I am an unabashed Unionist and I’ll stand up for Scotland in the Union. It was easy to understand, and it was easy for it to filter out of interviews, press releases, news stories and of course publicity shots! It meant that voters knew exactly what they were voting for at the ballot box. I strong confident leader for Unionism.

This strategy paid off when it came to the electoral tactics of both votes conservative, because it helped convert the strong regional list vote (that was larger than the constituency vote) to deliver an extra 12 MSPs from the lists. People therefore knew that even if the Scottish Conservatives didn’t win in their constituency that they will be helping to build a Unionist majority with a strong leader against independence by also voting for them in the lists.

Positive Campaigning Works!

Who would have thought… eh? By vigorous keeping up her positive message for the Union Ruth Davidson was able to deliver a positive campaign in Scotland for the Union in a way that Better Together couldn’t. It’s really important to be able to articulate a positive vision to people that can permeate all the inane chatter, babble, and bluster of an election campaign. In stark contrast with Zac’s campaign in London Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives delivered by articulating a positive vision of what she will do as Unionist leader of the opposition.

The rational AND emotional case for the Union.

We Unionists can talk all day about the dangers and worries of the breakup of the United Kingdom, but there is only so much people can take. Setting the Better Together campaign alongside the Scottish Conservative and Unionists campaign this year the key difference is tone. While Better Together brought the rational case home to bear in 2014, they completely lacked the emotional case for Unity and the positives it brings for people. That is what Davidson brought to the 2016 campaign. She pulled on people’s heartstrings, called on Unionists to back her vision of a set of people’s United together in common cause and it paid off.

Let Ruth be Ruth – authentic Unionism

You’ve been able to tell, from the moment Ruth Davidson became leader of the Scottish Conservatives that she is authentic. She knows what she stands for and has no problem telling you about it. You knew she would never abandon Unionism, you could trust her to move Scotland on from the Referendum without sacrificing the Union.

This has been one of the dividing lines between Davidson and Dugdale. Underneath the surface it has been one of the bigger concerns about Scottish Labour, there has always been a sense and evidence to suggest that a subsection of the party are happy to abandon their country for the sake of winning. So in truth voters never knew if they could trust Dugdale to be a truly Unionist voice and not allow forces within Labour to move her away from that. Fundamentally for Dugdale, she lost leader of the opposition in Holyrood to Davidson because she didn’t understand her own pitch. She tried to do the right thing in moving on from the referendum in the wrong way, by not sticking up for the Union to seal the divisive referendum chapter in Scottish politics.

The same rules can be applied across any campaign, you have to know what you are about and you have to be yourself and politicians trying to find ways to win always seem to forget this. Brown, Miliband, and Dugdale have suffered from it in the Labour party, so too has Zac Goldsmith for the Conservatives this year in London

Likeability counts outside your heartlands.

You just have to be liked these days, now I’m most certainly not talking about how many likes you get on Facebook, and it is not the be all and end all, but it’s important. Ruth is eminently likeable, she’s the kinda gal that you could have a pint in the pub with. This is certainly what convinced significant amounts of people who have not voted Scottish Conservative and Unionist in their life to vote for her and her team this time round. This likability factor is vital in contests where you are historically weak. London under Boris is another good example here.

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