Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson spoke at the Policy Scotland lecture series, held at the University of Glasgow. Her speech, titled “Building a stronger Britain”, focused on several key areas, as she set out her vision for the future of the country.
Davidson emphasised her centre-right politics throughout: her support for repealing the 8th amendment in Ireland and gay marriage mark her out as more socially liberal than many in her party. Following this trend, she spoke of the positive contribution immigration has for society and was critical of Theresa May’s government for retaining and refusing to review arbitrary limits on migration.
The housing market was also addressed, where Davidson has personal experience of the inaccessibility of home ownership for the majority of young people. She admits her party are losing the argument on the housing crisis. Afterwards she told me that she’d only managed to buy her first home last year, at the age of 38. And she was candid about the role politicians have to play in solving this crisis: “forgive me for stating the bleeding obvious – but the best way to sort this is to build more homes.”
Davidson praised the University of Glasgow’s pioneering work on technology innovation, which she likens to a “fourth industrial revolution.” However, she was sharply critical of Tony Blair’s goal of having 50% of young adults in higher education. Instead, she emphasised apprenticeships and work experience, starting as early as school.
When speaking about inequalities between generations, Davidson referenced a recent report by the Resolution Foundation, which proposed a £10,000 “citizen’s inheritance” for young people. While she did not express support for this policy, she spoke of the “need to rebuild consent” for capitalism.
The speech was followed by a short Q&A chaired by Principal Muscatelli, where one student brought up the link between mental health and job insecurity. Davidson acknowledged this exists and agreed that ensuring there is proper employment for people with and without degrees is key to addressing the high levels of stress and anxiety on campus and in wider society.
The Glasgow Guardian were lucky to have the opportunity to speak with Davidson after the speech, as almost all interview requests for other outlets were denied. In this brief conversation, she emphasised her understanding of intergenerational inequality, which she feels can be addressed by reviewing the planning process for large-scale housing developments, drawing on the experience of New Towns such as Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.
On the issue of mental health, she expressed concern about the impact of technology on young peoples’ lives. When Mhairi Black became Westminster’s youngest MP three years ago, tweets and social media posts she had made when she was far younger and not in the public eye were used to criticise her. Davidson told me she was worried about the increasing availability of smart phones for young children, which has turned online bullying into a 24-hour threat.
Commenting on the event, a representative from Policy Scotland welcomed the opportunity to hear more than soundbites from politicians. Davidson’s speech was political, but it was not party political. It was not the kind of speech you would hear in Holyrood or party conferences. There was hardly any mention of Brexit or independence. While it lacked substance in terms of practical policies, it did address the housing crisis, immigration and the future of the Scottish economy in a positive way.
Davidson spoke candidly about mental health issues for students and how these are linked to wider economic problems. When discussing intergenerational justice, and the prospect that our generation will be worse off than our parents, she referenced the Resolution Foundation’s report and spoke at length on the housing crisis. And she was keen to emphasise that she is politically a “centrist”, which sets her apart from many of her colleagues in Holyrood and Westminster.