'Polite zeal' at Michelle Ballantyne leadership launch

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Michelle BallantyneImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Michelle Ballantyne became an MSP in 2017

For all that it was hastily assembled. For all that the candidate is a relative newcomer. For all that there was an absence of Parliamentarians. Michelle Ballantyne still managed an enthusiastic launch.

Firstly, her supporters, brimming with polite zeal. They had seemingly come to Edinburgh from all over Scotland, rural and urban. One even brought her dogs, who were mostly silent and respectful.

The only member of Team Ballantyne with parliamentary connections is Ross Thomson, who stood down as an MP after allegations of sexual assault in a Commons bar, which he strenuously denies.

Mr Thomson sat quietly in the front row. Asked by the wicked media about his presence, Ms Ballantyne said he was a friend - and that we should all await the outcome of a Westminster investigation which she forecast would not be long delayed.

Then, the contender herself. She only became an MSP in May 2017 after a varied career as a nurse, a business founder and a mother of six.

She is realistic about her prospects - conceding she has a "mountain to climb" - but contrives, simultaneously, to be eager about the ascent ahead.

But what message to take from the launch? The constrained delight of her team, urged to cheer for a photocall as if they had just witnessed a winning try?

Or the relatively gloomy message of her slogan, declaring that the Tories failed the Scottish people in 2019? Said slogan emblazoned just above a graveyard in the ante-room of a magnificent Edinburgh kirk.

It was, in truth, difficult to discern precisely. The obligatory opening video told us little - in the fashion of such devices. Ms Ballantyne, we learned, was in favour of providing good things for hard-working people.

Cutting the 'business burden'

That phrase about "working people" surfaced repeatedly, just as Jackson Carlaw, her rival for the job, had emphasised the need to focus upon blue-collar Toryism.

It seems one can observe a trend in a party which will need to extend its appeal if it is to achieve its objective of winning power from the SNP at the Holyrood elections next year.

On tax, she expressed a preference for cutting the burden upon business and removing the extra levy imposed upon top earners in Scotland. That would, she said, attract talent, boost employment and thus ultimately benefit everyone.

On public spending, she cited the NHS, education and justice. Spending should be reviewed in an effort to root out waste.

Again, perhaps understandably, there were few specifics at this stage. She did question whether universal free university tuition had worked - and indicated she favoured an alternative approach, as yet unspecified.

'Irked with indyref2'

I asked her about her views on benefits. She stressed that the State must help those who were struggling. But that part of that help should be assistance to bolster self-esteem. Those who wanted large families must take personal responsibility for their choices, whether they were in work or reliant on benefits.

On indyref2, she says she is a democrat - but firmly backs the PM in ruling out a further independence referendum for the foreseeable future. She hopes, she says, to oust the SNP in 2021. So the issue won't then arise.

In practice, though, she wants off this agenda. There was the phenomenon known as "bored with Brexit". Ms Ballantyne is irked with indyref2.

She just doesn't want to talk about it, preferring again to focus on those working folk.

Do I think she'll win? No, I don't - although one can never be entirely certain when popular choice is involved.

But I do think she'll pose something of an epistemological challenge to the Scottish Tories, obliging them to clarify where they stand, to distinguish justified policy from pre-judged belief. And that can't be a bad thing.

I muttered roughly that - albeit in shorter words - as I faced the camera to record a televised closing thought. One member of Team Ballantyne who had been listening said: "That's it. That's what we're doing."