Ruth Davidson: 'I went into politics out of frustration and arrogance'

At MT's Inspiring Women conference, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson talks about her career from journalism to politics, her biggest regret and why she's sleeping better at night.

by Kate Bassett

On becoming a leader:

Before I got elected, I worked as a journalist for 10 years. Although I was part of a team, I was a lone wolf in terms of what I was doing and I didn’t have a single direct report. On my first day in Scottish Parliament, Annabel Goldie resigned and I ended up in the leadership contest. Within six months, I was leading the party. We’d been underperforming for 20 years and I had to turn us around and bring in new ideas, new blood, new funds and new campaign tools. It was a baptism of fire and I had to make all my mistakes in public. I wanted to change 100 things in five minutes. I’d done some army officer leadership training when I was in the reserved forces but let me tell you, being able to instruct people who have to obey what you say is very different from leading a political party! I’ve learned about resilience, tenacity, vision, building teams and taking them on a journey with you. 

People have been saying incredibly nice things about me in the past couple of years. We had a good election in 2016 when we became the main opposition in Holyrood, pushing the Labour party into third place for the first time in more than 60 years. And we had a good election last June when we went from one MP to 13. But I’m only cashing in cheques now that I wrote six years ago.

On writing her first book:

Last year, I agreed to write a book and I’ve just handed in the first draft [called Yes She Can]. I feel like a liberated woman. I didn’t want to write anything about myself; I wanted to write about other really interesting women. And so I interviewed 17 or 18 women who have all broken the mould in some way and made it to the top; everyone from the Prime Minister, Martha Lane Fox and Olympian Katherine Grainger to a Syrian doctor who set up six children’s hospitals during the war and India’s first woman commander trainer. This isn’t just about the punch-the-air moments, it’s about the dark times. There’s a sense that people who have made it, been on TV or made lots of money have somehow had it easy, that they eat and drink sunshine. That’s not true. Almost anyone who has made it to the top has had to pick themselves up from a fall – once, twice, many times – and find the strength to keep going.

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