Ruth Davidson takes inspiration from Marx (Groucho, not Karl)

This is the immigration policy of the Scottish Tories, as explained this morning, 26th May 2017, by their leader Ruth Davidson on Radio Scotland (2:08 in). I doubt if I’ve ever heard a less convincing or coherent explanation of a policy from a leading politician.

The UK Conservative Party is committed to cutting net immigration from the hundreds to tens of thousands. Ruth Davidson supports this policy, but believes Scotland has “about the right number of immigrants”. Scotland must not let the number of immigrants fall, but neither can it have a separate immigration policy from the rest of the UK.

The Scottish Tories assert there is no contradiction in this stance. As Davidson explains, they simply want a larger slice of a smaller cake. The Scottish Government should resolve any problems and attract a higher percentage of immigrants to the UK. Davidson explains that Scotland has not had its full share of immigrants because it has not been an attractive destination, in particular, because it is “the highest taxed part of the UK”. The problem with that argument is that Scotland’s income tax rates and bands have diverged from the UK’s only since April this year and can have had no effect on the immigration figures currently available. Anyway, the difference in income tax is marginal, and income tax is just one part of a far larger picture (according to the Fraser of Allander Institute).

Trying to make some sense of Davidson’s stance, Scotland, with 8% of the UK population, would need to attract a bizarrely implausible 20-40% of total UK immigrants while the UK government, with its hands on the real levers of power, is working hard to slash numbers. The actual number Scotland would have to attract is anyone’s guess, anyone except Ruth Davidson of course. She would not be drawn on figures; she is not “hung up on numbers”, in spite of having already said that the current level of immigration is “about right”. The important point Davidson seems desperate to convey is that the Tories, neither in Scotland nor the rest of the UK, have any responsibility for this incoherent shambles. At the UK level they are merely executing the wishes of the electorate for lower immigration, and in Scotland it’s the SNP’s job to carry the can if they can’t ameliorate the policies of the UK government – even if it is a Conservative one.

For some reason Ruth Davidson has acquired a reputation for competence and charisma. That has been largely engendered by an admiring London based press, which has been beguiled by her skilled stand-up shtick. They seem to have missed her spectacular volte face over the UK retaining free movement of people and staying in the EU Single Market; she was firmly in favour of both even after the EU referendum but she is now equally supportive of Theresa May’s hard Brexit ambitions. Her fan base must also have missed her unconvincing flailing when subjected to mildly sceptical questioning by journalists.

Ruth Davidson’s ludicrous stance on immigration marks her our for what she is, an opportunist lightweight, bereft of credible policies and who has a distinctly Marxist approach to principles. That’s not Karl, but Groucho, who said “these are my principles; if you don’t like them I have others”.