Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links has declared that she would make a sensational return to front-line politics to lead the pro-Union campaign if there is a second independence referendum.
On Sunday, the former Scottish Tory leader said that while she believed she would never again stand in a parliamentary election, she was ready to serve “in any way I can” should the SNP succeed in securing another vote on breaking up the UK.
Once touted as a potential prime minister, Ruth Davidson – as she was known at the time – transformed the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives during her eight-year stint as leader before standing down in 2019.
She insisted that she did not believe there would be a referendum for at least another decade, and denounced Nicola Sturgeon’s latest plan for securing a new vote as a “sign of weakness” on the part of the SNP.
However, asked by an audience member at an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show whether she would be prepared to front a “No” campaign as she was “the only one who could stand up to Sturgeon”, she signalled that she would be prepared to do so.
“Were there to be one, I will always get involved in whatever way I can, because I believe in it, and I believe in fighting for what you believe in,” Baroness Davidson said, at an event hosted by Iain Dale, the LBC radio presenter.
Discussing whether she would become the “face” of a pro-Union campaign if asked by the Prime Minister, she said: “They wouldn’t have to ask, this is my country and I will fight for it.”
She added: “I don’t expect there to be a referendum any time in the next 10 to 15 years. I’ll help out in whatever capacity I can if that ever happens.”
The UK Government has already refused to transfer the necessary powers to Holyrood to legislate for a new referendum.
The First Minister has said that should her plan for a Holyrood-run referendum be ruled unconstitutional, as is widely expected, she would attempt to turn the next general election into a “de facto referendum” on independence.
Baroness Davidson, who also played a leading role in the “No” campaign in 2014, rejected the SNP’s claim that it has a cast-iron mandate to stage a second referendum, after pro-independence parties won a majority of seats at the last Holyrood election.
She said: “They signed an agreement saying they would respect the result of the last referendum, and that respect lasted all of 32 seconds before they decided to campaign for another one, so no, I don’t accept [they have a mandate].
“I don’t think you get to keep running a question because you didn’t like the answer. You can bet your bottom dollar that if they had won 55-45, they wouldn’t let us re-run it.”
She added: “I do think they [the SNP] are in a bit of a bind and I’m not sure this plan to go to the Supreme Court, then run a general election campaign for who becomes the prime minister of the United Kingdom… as a de facto referendum when it’s not, works.
“I think that is a sign of weakness that they don’t know what their next move is, but they needed to do something. I’m not sure that plan is one that is wholly effective. I’m picking my words really carefully.”
The 2014 cross-party Better Together campaign was fronted by Lord Darling of Roulanish, the former Labour chancellor. However, there is uncertainty over whether a formal alliance between the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats would be repeated.
Jackie Baillie, the deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said her party was “wrong” to have worked with the Tories during the campaign and suggested that pro-UK parties would run “distinctive” campaigns in any future referendum.
Turning down Westminster offer
Baroness Davidson also revealed that she had been asked by aides to Theresa May to stand for the UK Parliament in the 2017 election in an English seat, but rejected the offer.
She said that she would never accept being “parachuted” into an English constituency, but left the door ajar to standing in a Scottish seat at a future election.
“I think my time in elected politics is over, but I’ve been wrong before,” she said.
Responding to Baroness Davidson, a spokesman for the SNP said: “The Scottish Government has been given a cast-iron democratic mandate by the people to hold an independence referendum – and that is what we intend to do on Oct 19 2023.
“Ruth Davidson said that if there was a majority of parties in the Scottish Parliament who supported independence then it is right that an independence referendum be held, and clearly that is the case.
“In any case, it is the Scottish people who will decide upon the future of Scotland – not a Tory government at Westminster, or unelected Lords with no democratic mandate.”