Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was interviewed on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday October 8th. The invite to appear on the BBC’s flagship political programme was odd given it was the weekend of the SNP conference.
The Conservative party conference had been the previous weekend and Davidson had enjoyed considerable media coverage.
The Scottish Conservative leader thus enjoyed limelight courtesy of her own party conference then stole some more limelight on the weekend of the SNP conference.
Nicola Sturgeon was also interviewed on the same programme, she appeared after Ruth Davidson. However questions have been raised over the approach Marr adopted with both leaders. To many people it appeared as though the BBC presenter gave Ruth Davidson a far easier time than he did her SNP rival.
I’ve analysed the Ruth Davidson interview to see if there is any truth in these allegations. The results can be found below. Below is how Andrew Marr introduced his programme.
There’s no doubt that the SNP had a disappointing general election result in terms of seats lost. But to claim the SNP “got quite a thumping from the voters” is ridiculous given the SNP gained more seats than all three Unionist parties combined. Marr tells viewers that the SNP seems “divided on the way forward”, but doesn’t expand on this ‘division’. The description of the First Minister as “Queen of Scotland” was patronising and insulting.
Ruth Davidson was interviewed first. Below is the intro and first question.
Ruth Question 1
Is the Prime Minister strong enough? The first question is a soft pat-ball question. It’s essentially a platform for Ruth to extol the virtues of Theresa May and present herself as loyal. “We’re behind the prime minister, she’s the best person to lead us forward.”
Ruth Question 2
Would you like to see some fresh blood in the Cabinet? Another pat-ball question that prompts a hearty, and rather odd, laugh. This allows Ruth to praise Theresa May’s Cabinet. Ruth then goes on to make a mini-speech. So far this is a very soft interview.
Ruth Question 3
Ruth is asked if she thinks Boris Johnston is the right person in the right job. This is a potentially tricky question. Davidson handles it by telling Marr Johnston is fully behind May. Marr gently interrupts with “Do you believe him?”. Davidson completely ignores Marr and ends her answer with more blurb about Johnston and May. Marr makes no attempt to get her to answer his question and merely moves on to the next.
Ruth Question 4
A rather rambling set-up before we get to the next question, which is does Ruth agree with John Major’s view that Universal Credit is “messy, unforgiving and socially unfair” and that it’s time for the Conservative party to “show its heart again”. Ruth avoids the question completely and instead gives what appears to be a pre-prepared answer that contains assertions and claims. Marr makes a couple of feeble attempts to interject but fails miserably.
Ruth Question 5
Having allowed Ruth to ramble on and avoid answering his question, Marr asks a slight variation. Does Ruth Davidson agree there should be a review of Universal Credit? Amazingly, not only is Davidson allowed to avoid answering again, but she changes the subject onto Scotland and, encouraged by Marr who brings up the subject of the SNP, veers off completely. The original question has been ignored and forgotten about by both Davidson and Marr.
Ruth Question 6
Ruth is asked about her ambition in terms of housing. This is back to pat-ball soft questioning designed to allow the subject of the interview to make a mini-speech, which is what Ruth Davidson does, after another rather contrived looking hearty laugh.
Ruth Question 7
Quite incredible. Marr doesn’t even get to finish his question before Ruth launches into her so-called answer, which is in truth yet another mini-speech. We’re half way into the interview and Ruth Davidson is yet to field one difficult interview or be pressed on one answer.
Ruth Question 8
Marr asks Ruth about her “vision for Britain after Brexit” adding “where do we stand in the world”. Yet another pat-ball set-up question that allows Ruth to launch into another mini-speech. At one point a clearly emotional Ruth gesticulates to the camera before ending on a rather corny joke with Marr. It’s becoming clear that this isn’t an interview in the true sense of the term. This is a platform for Ruth Davidson.
Ruth Question 9
Marr asks Davidson about comments she has made about the EU Single Market, reminding her she has called for maximum access for Scottish businesses and farmers. Davidson launches into a faux-jokey persona and takes the opportunity to credit Theresa May with the comments. That, bizarrely, is her entire answer.
This is a bizarre missed opportunity from Marr who could have and probably should have reminded Davidson that she [the Scottish Tory leader] actually wanted Single Market membership, and not just access. The show host also fails to press Davidson on what happens in the event no such access is granted.
Ruth Question 10
This is a follow up to his previous question. Ruth is asked whether the UK needs to shadow or adopt EU regulatory changes during ‘that period’. What period is Marr referring to? His previous question asked about access to the Single Market after the UK leaves. Yet he seems to be asking about an unspecified ‘period’ now. Ruth begins answering by warbling nothing of substance. Marr makes another quite feeble attempt to interject and is simply talked over by the Scottish Tory leader. A straw-man argument is introduced in terms of food standards and Ruth ends another mini-speech.
Ruth Question 11
Marr is again denied the opportunity to finish his set-up before Ruth Davidson starts her ‘answer’. It’s another mini-speech.
Ruth Question 12
This is the first time Ruth has been pressed to give a clear answer. She is pushed to deny the UK will have to shadow EU regulations if Single Market access is to be granted. Is it worth doing? Davidson brazenly ignores the question and instead gives another mini-speech. Marr just ignores the refusal to give any kind of answer and moves on.
Ruth Question 13
A fawning pat-ball question by Marr. Ruth indulges herself in a bit of self-praise. It’s another mini-speech.
Ruth Question 14
This is a standard question on polls for which Ruth Davidson has a pre-prepared answer for. She takes the opportunity to highlight how ‘successful’ her party has been in Scotland. This answer is essentially a mini-party political broadcast.
Ruth Question 15
Ruth is asked if she is relaxed about a Brexit ‘No Deal’. She replies that the government should prepare for “all eventualities”. Does that mean she is relaxed? Marr doesn’t press her.
Ruth Question 16
Marr has a follow up question on ‘No Deal’. What would it mean for Scotland. Ruth literally ignores the question and makes another of those mini-speeches.
Ruth Question 17
Marr has asked Ruth if she agrees with the Chancellor that no deal would be “very, very bad for families across the UK”. Ruth responds that she doesn’t believe it’s the optimum and starts talking about the country deciding to leave the EU. She ends by saying she’d prefer to get a deal than have no deal. What if there is no deal and what would this mean? We’re none the wiser as Marr moves on.
Ruth Question 18
Marr appears to be setting himself up to ask a difficult question on the Single Market, but then it peters out. He asks a soft pat-ball question about Ruth and others having “given up the fight”. This is an open invite for Ruth to launch another of her ‘campaign’ speeches. This time she manages a dig at Nicola Sturgeon over a second independence referendum. The answer has nothing to do with the European Single Market. Marr sits politely until Ruth finishes.
Ruth Question 19
Can a Scot ever again lead the Conservative party, asks Marr? The soft question prompts a short answer complete with lame joke and what’s now becoming an irritatingly contrived guffaw from Davidson.
Ruth Question 20
The final question from Marr is in keeping with the softly, softly almost chummy feel of the whole interview. Ruth again takes the opportunity to launch what is a cross between self-publicising and party political broadcast. The so-called interview ends.
There’s no doubt that Ruth Davidson was given an easy time by Andrew Marr. Where was the question on the recent racism and bigotry scandals that hit her party north of the border? Where was the question on the DUP deal and why David Mundell pledged funding for Scotland in the event any deal was agreed?
Where, given it was topical and came up in Marr’s interview with Nicola Sturgeon [see below] was the question on Catalonia? Was it right that the Catalans be denied a democratic vote by Madrid under any circumstances?
This wasn’t an attempt to glean answers from Ruth Davidson. This was an opportunity to show-case the Scottish Tory leader to a UK audience. Marr’s political programme was in Scotland to cover the SNP conference. It was hi-jacked for political purposes.
And what of his interview with Nicola Sturgeon? Did Marr adopt the same kid-glove approach? The whole interview with the SNP leader is shown at the bottom of this article. Watch for yourself and see the difference in tone and intent.
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Marr interviews Nicola Sturgeon