The former Scottish Tory leader, who has a history of depression, spoke out about how she feared her medical records would become public – and says she’s now comfortable to open up
Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has revealed that she almost did not run for the position in case her mental health history became known.
The Tory peer, who was diagnosed with clinical depression in her first year at university, said she was concerned that her medical history would come out when she was considering standing for the role in 2011.
Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links told the Desperately Seeking Wisdom with Craig Oliver podcast that when she was diagnosed around 20 years ago, people did not talk about mental health issues as much, saying: “It was very shameful. I didn’t want anyone to know.”
Lady Davidson, who served as an MSP from 2011 to 2021, said she wanted to be able to talk about her mental health “on my own terms” so that she could “own the way in which it was presented”.
The peer, who became leader of the Scottish Conservatives in November 2011, said: “Actually, I considered not throwing my hat in the ring for leader in case my medical history, that came out.
“I’m trying to remember dates, but I became leader in 2011, so it would be after the press got hold of Gordon Brown’s children’s medical records, which felt like a really egregious breach.
“But the idea that the papers had the power to find out and open up people’s medical records, why wouldn’t somebody want to find that out about the new leader of the Tories in Scotland?”
Lady Davidson has worked with mental health charity the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) during her time in politics and said she was pleased she had the opportunity to open up about mental health issues, saying it would have helped her at the time of her own diagnosis to see someone speaking out.
She said: “I think at that time, I was just starting at uni, I had big dreams, everyone does – but the idea that you could go on and have a big job, that you could be in the public eye, you could be in politics at all, and have this big shameful secret… it didn’t occur to me.
“I thought that that was my ambition over. I hope that somebody out there was helped by the fact that they could see, you know, a politician or Prince Harry talking about it.
“When you see people in a space that you’re interested in, I hope it helps.”
Lady Davidson also told how she was “really annoyed” to be described as a lesbian kickboxer during the Scottish Conservative leadership contest in 2011.
She told the podcast: “I’ll tell you why it annoyed me. One, because I’d stopped kickboxing years before, so it wasn’t even true. And two because it was so reductive, and it was reductive to try and make a point.
“There were four people in that leadership election and every single other one of them was referred to in the papers by their job apart from me.
“So it was deputy leader Margot Fraser, transport spokesman Jackson Carlaw, Justice Convener Margaret Mitchell and lesbian kickboxer Ruth Davidson. And it was so reductive and it was so dismissive.”
Lady Davidson became the first UK party leader to give birth in office when she had baby Finn in October 2018 with her partner, Jen Wilson.
She cited both “professional and personal” reasons for her decision to step down as Tory leader in August 2019.
The Tory peer told the podcast she promised that she would not take on any big jobs until her son was at school, and added: “This is one of the promises I want to stick to.”