Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson (Photo: Getty Images)

POLITICS

Ruth Davidson is authentic, brave and inspiring. But she doesn’t want to be PM

What does that say about British politics, asks Radhika Sanghani

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By Radhika Sanghani on

“Awesome. Brave. A very decent, real human being. Ruth Davidson rocks, it’s as simple as that.”

Anyone reading these tweets without knowing who Davidson is would assume that she was anything from an up-and-coming singer to a recent Love Island contestant. Not the leader of the Scottish Conservative party.

It is rare that politicians are so widely praised on social media from people of all political backgrounds. But Davidson has achieved that feat after speaking honestly and matter-of-factly about her mental-health struggles, from depression to self-harm, heavy drinking and having suicidal thoughts.

In an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine, she said her mental ill health began in her teens after a boy she knew killed himself. “I started hurting myself: punching walls, cutting my stomach and arms with blades or broken glass, drinking far, far too much and becoming belligerent and angry, pushing people away,” said the now 39-year-old. “I was punishing myself and hating myself for it at the same time.”

She was diagnosed with depression by the time she was a student at Edinburgh University, and was so afraid of sleeping that she spent a whole term living nocturnally. Over the years, she has learnt various coping mechanisms to minimise her depression, from not drinking to exercising regularly, going to church and being kinder to herself. But the politician says she still has “periods of heightened anxiety” and can “feel the weight of the black blanket start to descend”.

It is why she says there is no truth to the rumours she plans to vie for Theresa May’s role and lead the country. “Bollocks,” was her exact response. “You have to want it, and I don't want to be prime minister. I value my relationship and my mental health too much for it. I will not be a candidate.”

All of Theresa May’s attempts to be ‘relatable’ ending up looking painfully staged and forced, probably because they are

While it is a shame that someone as honest and admirable as Davidson doesn’t want to ever be PM, it is, quite frankly, a blessing that she even exists as an MSP. There are few politicians who would ever speak out as openly as she just has about mental health (she even pulled up her sleeves during her ST interview to reveal her self-harm scars) – and that’s just one of the many taboos she has busted in politics.

Davidson has never hid the fact that she’s gay – and she became the first party leader to bring her same-sex partner onto a TV broadcast back in 2015. Plus she’s currently the first gay leader to be pregnant and is going to become the first party leader to take maternity leave once the baby is born. While many politicians would shy away from discussing any of this, Davidson has been honest about all of it – from her fear about motherhood, to her refusal to move to London and leave her child in Edinburgh (“that’s actually offensive to me”).

It’s a stark contrast to the behaviour of our current PM, who is featured in a documentary tonight, looking awkward as she sits at home in Chequers with her husband, watching The Chase and shouting out the answers. All of Theresa May’s attempts to be “relatable” ending up looking painfully staged and forced, probably because they are. The most honest she has ever come to discussing her emotions was when she admitted she “shed a little tear” at the results of the election exit poll.

No one expects May to suddenly open up to a youth of heavy drinking – we all know the naughtiest thing she’s ever done is run through fields of wheat – but her lack of authenticity is obvious for all to see. Like many politicians, she comes across as impenetrable, unrelatable and, unfortunately, fairly uninspiring. It’s why many people – Tories and non-Tories alike – are now saying that Davidson would make a much better PM, and are lamenting the fact that she isn’t going to go for the job.

The fact that Davidson has said she would go for the First Minister of Scotland role, but not Prime Minister, is a testament to the issues that Westminster still faces. Many female politicians have stressed recently that Parliament needs a 21st-century makeover, in terms of everything from facing down sexual harassment to improving child-care, moving away from the rowdy masculinity of PMQs, and ultimately, improving the work-life balance. Davidson’s honesty in saying the job isn’t for her proves that a lot of work still needs to be done to make sure more women want to aim for top political leadership roles.

But the one positive is that she will doubtless inspire more girls and women to consider politics as a career option. Just by virtue of not being the typical Oxford-educated, heterosexual, guarded male MP, Davidson proves that you don’t have to tick the stereotypical boxes to lead a party. You can go into politics even if you have a complex past filled with the likes of self-harm, mental health struggles and depression. You can lead a party while going through IVF. And you can still make a huge difference in politics even if you choose not to aim for the top job.

@radhikasanghani

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Ruth Davidson (Photo: Getty Images)
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