IT’S widely held among political pundits that if Selkirk’s Derek Brownlee had not lost out at the May election for the Scottish Parliament, he would have been a strong contender to take over from Annabel Goldie as leader of the Conservatives in Scotland.
But with the chartered accountant, who was the Tory finance spokesman in Holyrood, falling victim to the SNP surge at the ballot box, another Souter has emerged as favourite to win the leadership race which will be decided on November 4.
Party supporters from the town were among a gathering of around 60 activists which met last week in Jedburgh to hear 32-year-old Ruth Davidson – like Mr Brownlee an alumnus of Knowepark – deliver a rallying call in support of her leadership campaign.
And after the meeting, Ms Davidson spoke of her pride in her local roots, claiming the emphatic victory of her party colleague John Lamont in the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency proved the Conservatives could win in Scotland without divorcing itself from the UK party.
That was a barb aimed directly at her closest leadership rival, Murdo Fraser, the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP who, at the launch of his campaign earlier this month, said splitting from the UK party to form a new centre-right organisation was the Tories’ only hope of attracting greater support in Scotland. He claimed the party, which was left with just 15 MSPs after the SNP’s May landslide, would have to adapt or die.
Ms Davidson spoke of her confidence that the party in its present form could again become a driving force in Scottish politics by bringing together the Convervative family from all walks of life, and all ages and reclaiming the support of those who had drifted away.
“It is the message and the policies, not the structure, which is important,” she told us.
The meeting was organised by her campaign manager Mr Lamont, who comfortably held the redrawn local constituency in May – an achievement acknowledged by Ms Davidson.
She said: “Having spent time in the Borders before the last elections to help John Lamont, it’s great to visit again and have his support and the support of so many local party members in my leadership campaign.
“By being re-elected for his constituency with an increased majority, John proved the Conservatives can still win in Scotland, and I believe I have the energy, determination and vision to make that happen in other parts of Scotland.”
Mr Lamont, who is organising Ms Davidson’s charm offensive across Scotland’s 59 Holyrood constituencies, said she had received a warm reception. He said: “Her qualities of energy, vision and drive were very evident to her audience and she clearly has the ability to reach out to and connect with people right across Scotland.”
Ms Davidson was born at the Simpson Memorial in Edinburgh in the days before the BGH and when Selkirk, where her father, Douglas, was a mill manager at Laidlaw & Fairgrieve, no longer had maternity facilities.
The Davidsons lived in Bridgelands Road and Ruth attended Knowepark school until primary three, while her father, who had played professional football for Partick Thistle in his younger days, became a midfield stalwart in the all-conquering Selkirk FC side of the late 70s and early 80s.
“Dougie was a great servant to the club,” recalled former manager Ian Whitehead this week.
The family left the Borders for Fife when Mr Davidson took a job in the whisky industry and Ruth graduated from Edinburgh University before working as journalist, presenter and documentary maker with the BBC. A former Sunday school teacher, she served three years in the Territorial Army and worked as head of Miss Goldie’s private office before being elected in May.
“I keep up with many family friends in Selkirk and one of the highlights of my life has been following the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer at the Common Riding,” Ms Davidson told The Wee Paper. “I have a great affinity with the Borders, not just because voters had the good sense to vote Conservative.
“The day after I spoke in Jedburgh, the bookmaker Stan James made me favourite for the first time at odds of 11/10, so the Borders may well be working its magic!”
z Stan James rates Mr Fraser a 6/5 shot for the Tory leadership with Jackson Carlaw at 6/1 and Margaret Mitchell the outsider at 10/1.