Scottish Conservative leader Davidson quits, citing Brexit and family

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Ruth Davidson quit as leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland on Thursday, delivering a blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after she led a resurgence for the party in Scotland during her eight years in charge.

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Davidson, who provided a counterweight to Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party and won key seats that kept the Conservatives in power, said she felt conflicted over Brexit and she wanted to put her family first for once.

The 40-year-old said it had been the “privilege of her life” to serve as leader and to have campaigned to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom in the independence referendum in 2014.

She said it had been no secret that she had felt conflicted over the result of the Brexit referendum two years later. She backed “Remain”, as did the majority of Scottish voters.

“I believe two referenda have split Scotland and indeed opinion in the UK, and I am convinced that referenda should be used to affirm public opinion but not as a way for political leaders to fail to lead,” she told reporters.

“Respect is what is missing from our debates, and without respect you cannot have understanding and you cannot unite, which is what we in Scotland and in the UK need to do.”

Davidson’s straight-talking manner and ribald sense of humour made her a favourite of moderate Conservatives but also popular far beyond the core Conservative electorate.

She had attempted to chart a course that recognised and respected the Brexit referendum result, she said, while seeking to mitigate risks for key Scottish businesses and sectors.

Davidson said Johnson had looked her in the eye and “categorically assured” her he was working to get a deal.

Johnson has said Britain will leave the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31, and on Wednesday he enraged opponents by limiting parliamentary time to halt no deal.

Johnson thanked Davidson, who gave birth to a son last year, for her “wonderful service”.

“She has dedicated so much time and energy to the role and has been instrumental in the revival of our electoral fortunes in Scotland,” he said.

Scotland’s Conservative Party named Jackson Carlaw, 60, as interim leader. The former car salesman served before as interim leader while Davidson took several months’ maternity leave and last year he described the prospect of a no-deal Brexit as “devastating for Britain”.

Davidson, who said she intended to continue to represent Edinburgh Central in the Scottish parliament until elections in 2021, said she no longer had the appetite to fight campaigns.

“The threat of spending hundreds of hours away from my home and family now fills me with dread,” said Davidson. “That is no way to lead.

“Additionally, I fear that having tried to be a good leader over the years, I have proved a poor daughter, sister, partner and friend.”

Writing by Paul Sandle; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Marguerita Choy