Liberal Hero of the Week #85: Ruth Davidson

by Stephen Tall on January 25, 2015

cf hero - ruth davidson

Ruth Davidson

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
Reason: for sticking up for human rights

Raif Badawi, last week’s Liberal Hero, is too ill from the first 50 lashes he was subjected to by the Saudi authorities to have faced the second 50 or the third 50 that should by now have been inflicted on him. Had he recovered from his injuries he would still have 850 lashes to endure, in addition to his 10-year jail sentence for setting up the Free Saudi Liberals website.

This week saw the death of the ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. It also saw fulsome tributes paid to the King from leaders around the world. A “deeply saddened” David Cameron paid tribute to his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths”. Flags were lowered to half-mast at the houses of parliament and at Westminster Abbey: “a church honouring the leader of a country where conversion to Christianity is a capital offence,” as The Spectator acerbically observed. (Though, I merely note, that’s the kind of thing that happens in a church established by the state.)

It would be unfair to pin all the blame for Saudi Arabia’s continuing medieval theocracy on King Abdullah. As The Economist noted: ‘By Saudi standards, Abdullah was a moderniser, appointing the first female government minister and in 2013 appointing 30 women to the Shura Council. These moves drew protests from the puritanical Wahhabi clerics and parts of the devout population, as well as reformers who point out that women are still unable to drive or fraternise with men who are not relatives. Free speech is curbed. A number of Saudis are pushing for religion to have less of a grip on the public sphere, the results of which are strict laws on blasphemy and a ban on cinemas.’

Yet the rush to eulogise jarred, jarred badly. The death of a head of state is not the moment to grand-stand about human rights failings, but nor can they be ignored in favour of bland encomia. Pretty much alone among senior politicians, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stuck her head above the parapet:

Too right, which is why she’s this week’s Liberal Hero. That is all.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Research Associate at CentreForum. It showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.