Ruth Davidson has quit as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, citing both the conflict she feels over Brexit and her desire to achieve a better balance between her working and family life.
Telling a press conference in Edinburgh that she had made the decision with a heavy heart, Davidson described leading the party since November 2011 as “the privilege of my life”.
The loss of Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives’ most successful leader since devolution, from frontline politics will be a considerable blow not only to the party but also the pro-union cause.
Davidson, who gave birth to her first child in November, confirmed she would continue as MSP for Edinburgh Central until 2021, but said “the threat of spending hundreds of hours away from my home and family [to fight another election] now fills me with dread. That is no way to lead”.
She added: “You all know and I have never sought to hide the conflict I have felt over Brexit. Despite that conflict, I have attempted to chart a course for our party which recognises and respects the referendum result.”
While Davidson has been open about her concerns regarding Boris Johnson’s leadership, on Thursday she backed his decision to prorogue parliament, insisting she believed he was trying to secure a deal with the EU.
Explaining that her work had always come first over the past eight years, often at the expense of her commitments to loved one, Davidson said: “The arrival of my son means I now make a different choice.”
Her spokesperson insisted she been planning her exit before the prime minister announced the suspension of parliament on Wednesday.
There were tributes to Davidson from across the political spectrum.
Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, wished her well for the future, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, commended her “kick-ass approach”. The former prime minister Theresa May tweeted: “Thank you for all you’ve done for our party and our union over the last eight years, and enjoy your well-deserved family time with Jen and Finn.”
Davidson’s close friend David Mundell, whose sacking by Johnson from his role as Scottish secretary against her advice reportedly made her “livid”, tweeted: “I understand and respect Ruth’s decision to stand down for personal reasons. I will miss her greatly. As leader she transformed the Scottish Tories’ fortunes and was a passionate voice for the union. Our politics needs more authentic voices like Ruth’s and I hope that can be her legacy.”
Adam Tomkins, Davidson’s friend and ally who has been tipped as a possible successor, said: “Ruth has been my boss for the past three years, but first and foremost she is my friend. She was the reason I joined the Tory party and why a lot of people voted Tory. But she is absolutely right to put family first. The toll that political leadership takes on family life is extraordinary.”
Davidson, who was tipped as a future UK Tory leader and prime minister until she ruled it out last year, also said in her resignation statement that her party’s electoral successes had paled in significance compared with the role it had played in the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK during the independence referendum campaign.
The first openly lesbian leader of any party in the UK, she is credited with transforming the party’s fortunes north of the border.
After winning the party leadership in 2011, at the age of 32 and months after first being elected as an MSP, Davidson set about a comprehensive remodelling of the Scottish Tories, subtly changing policy emphasis and bringing in talented individuals who did not fit the traditional Conservative mould.
At the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, the party achieved its best performance in a quarter of a century, pushing Scottish Labour into third place, and in the snap general election a year later, 13 Scottish Tory MPs were elected, a result that was key to keeping Theresa May in Downing Street.
There is some speculation that Davidson would like to see a smooth handover to her deputy, Jackson Carlaw, who was interim leader when she was on maternity leave. Other names mooted as potential successors include Tomkins, the party’s constitution spokesman, and the health spokesman, Miles Briggs.