Alright, most of us have done it. We’ve all experienced being backed into a corner in an argument, and, holding to an intractable position, found ourselves defending the most ludicrous statements. Learning how to manoeuver an opponent into such a situation is one of the set-pieces every speaker in any half decent secondary school debating society hopes to master. Knowing how to get out of this logical trap is an equally important skill to acquire – before college.
Regardless of how infuriating she is to listen to, Ruth Davidson – the buffalo riding leader of Scotland’s Unionist Party – is a fine orator and debater. She knows how to massage the truth to fit her own agenda, she has learned how to tell opponents to “sit down,” and has grasped the knack of not letting her face sink with mortification when her fellow party members are speaking. But it would appear to be the case she hasn’t a notion of how to get out of a trap, especially one she has laid for herself. Her decision to defend the rape clause has her digging a hole, and it is only getting deeper.
Let’s consider how she got into this mess. Davidson and her party have managed to construct what, on the surface, would seem to be quite an ingenious strategy of opposition. Central to this strategy is the process of radicalising Scottish unionism into a concentrated force to withstand the progress of the independence movement, streamlining its traditional conservativism and emphasising its loyalism to attract non-Tory unionists into its ranks. To this end Ruth has even gone as far as whitewashing the blue on the façade of her Glasgow constituency office.
As an outward policy this has been moderately successful, contributing to the demise of the Labour Party. Inwardly – ideologically – however, this transformation has forced her and her party into a perilous salient. They have forced themselves into a form of parliamentary entrenchment whereby ground is not conceded by their refusal to share common ground. In a word, “SNP bad,” as a political tactic, has taken from them the possibility of adopting rational positions that have first been taken by the National Party – and as the SNP currently controls most of the board, the Tories have found themselves locked behind siege engines at every turn.
The rape clause in Westminster’s Child Benefit reforms is just one more of these impasses the Scottish Tories have imposed on themselves, and it’s Ruth’s bad luck that the issue with which it presents itself offers no third option. Asking women and girls to prove their child was conceived as the result of rape is either good or bad, and as the Conservatives reject sharing common ground with the SNP, and since the SNP led the charge against the clause, Ruth has found herself on the wrong side off good sense and on the wrong side of history.
Defending the London government on this matter was always going to explode in Ruth Davidson’s face, and at least half of Scotland’s unionist voters are disgusted with her decision to do just that. It was an ill-considered move rooted in an insane and ad hoc doctrine of opposition at any cost.
Of course, after jumping right on top of that particular landmine, all hell broke out. From one side of Scotland to the other, and even from within her own ranks, Ruth Davidson was attacked, sniped at, and pilloried. Every Tory on social media had to run and duck for cover as the anger over the rape clause reached fever pitch. Ruth abandoned her Twitter account for a few days hoping the storm would blow over, but when she came to the realisation that wasn’t going to happen she hid behind her spokesperson who merely repeated her support of the clause.
When she did eventually resurface, it was with a new idea. It was still the most sensitive way in which to treat rape survivors, she said, but if the Scottish government doesn’t like the sensitivity of the Westminster government it has the power in Holyrood to mitigate it in Scotland. What she is saying is that humiliating people like this is – in her opinion – still a good idea, but the SNP can take money from elsewhere in the budget to put out yet another fire started by London.
She won’t accept that had the SNP had its way in the Commons this repugnant reform would never have seen the light of day, and that even now it is still the SNP resisting it in Scotland. Sure, it is likely that the Scottish government will table a motion in the Edinburgh parliament – as happened with the Spare Bedroom Tax – to assist Scottish families, but – as it did with the Offensive Language at Football Matches Bill – the Tory party will just as likely resist it. Oh to have her cake and eat it.
As frustrating as it is for something as horrific as this rape clause to become political capital, it is at any rate fortunate that this fiasco has erupted so close to the May 4 council elections. There isn’t a snowball’s chance of this going down well on the doorsteps, and at last it might pull apart this toxic strategy the Scottish Tories have adopted. If this happens, then we will see them drawn out again back into no-man’s-land where we can get busy with the real job of wiping the floor with them.
The Butterfly Rebellion