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Courage, not fear: why we’ve fallen madly in love with Ruth Davidson

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Amid the bruising dialogue of Brexit, Stylist contributor Léonie Chao-Fong charts the growth of a new-found and unexpected political crush

Last night, I found myself doing something I'd never imagined: I cheered for a Tory.

"I LOVE YOU RUTH!" I roared at the TV, inadvertently spilling noodles onto my lap. My neighbours – who have shrouded their entire flat with St George's flags and Vote Leave posters – chimed in by slamming a broom stick against the floor. Politics gone local, you might say.

Roughly ten miles away in Wembley Arena, a 6000-strong crowd heckled and cheered at phrases such as "manufacturers of vacuum cleaners", "Australian-style points system" and "takeaway curry". Boris Johnson received a standing ovation as he misquoted a 1996 alien invasion film.

It really was a remarkable night.

Most of all, the two-hour long debate was extraordinary for its women.

Out of a panel of six speakers, four were female: Andrea Leadsom (Conservative MP and Minister of State for Energy) and Gisela Stuart (a German-born Labour MP) on the Leave side, and Ruth Davidson (leader of the Scottish Conservatives) and Frances O'Grady (General Secretary of the TUC) on the Remain side. 

It almost seemed that London's new and former mayors, Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson, were there for the obligatory male tokenism (it's important to hear men's voices too, guys).

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The BBC Great Debate (from l-r: Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart, Andrea Leadsom, David Dimbleby, Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan, Frances O'Grady)

The sight brought to mind one of the most memorable images from last year's election, where Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett came together at the end of a BBC debate in a group hug. Ed Milband stands to one side, an awkward outsider on a stage so usually overshadowed by men.

And like the 2015 televised debate, which ignited a simultaneous nation-wide "Nicola-mania", last night saw another exceptional Scottish woman catapulted to the centre spotlight: Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Davidson's performance was breathtaking: a magnificent balance of ferocious confidence and effortless charm.

She took on her opponents – two of whom belong to her own party – fearlessly, accusing them of lying over the possibility of Turkish ascension to the EU and lambasting the Leave campaign's claim that the British public "have had enough of experts".

"The other side have said throughout this debate they don't like experts," she said. "But when it comes to keeping our country safe and secure, I want to listen to the experts."

"I'm going to vote for them every single day of the week and twice on Sunday," she finished to a roar from the crowd.

Stylist readers have their say: the hands down winner of the debate

Stylist readers have their say: the hands down winner of the debate

Throughout the last few weeks, the In campaign has been criticised for its lacklustre energy. Davidson was animated and impassioned, injecting some much-needed enthusiasm as she attacked Brexiter Andrea Leadsom. "I can't let it stand that you tell a blatant untruth in the middle of a debate," she yelled.

Turning to the crowd, she bellowed, "You deserve the truth! You deserve the truth!" 

That was the moment when I emptied my dinner onto my lap, by the way. And when the crowd – and the Internet – went into uproar.

A relatively unfamiliar face to non-Scottish viewers, Davidson has been an incredible political force since becoming leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland in 2011. 

The party's success in the Holyrood elections last month – which saw them unseat Labour as the official opposition – has widely been attributed to her leadership and personality. 

It was easy to understand last night why Davidson has become so popular in the traditionally anti-Tory heartland. Working class, young (she turns 38 this year) and openly gay – she recently announced her engagement to her partner, Jen Wilson – she represents a new, progressive face to a Conservative Party best known for its lineup of indistinguishable stuffy old Etonians.

In contrast, Boris Johnson might as well have the words "Establishment" emblazoned on him.

She is also a master of social media (her Twitter is the stuff of legends) and her willingness to take part in unconventional photo shoots has won over the public and media alike. 

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Ruth Davidson: she fears neither man nor beast (or enormous buffalo)

Tomorrow will mark the end of a bitterly-fought, and oftentimes poisonous, campaign of "Project Fear" v. "Project Hate". One that has borne witness to an atmosphere of intolerance and hate, tragedy – and in its aftermath, an outpouring of unity and hope

By Friday morning, Britain will know the results of the EU referendum. What we cannot predict, however, are the consequences and long-term effects of the last few weeks.

Let's hope that Ruth Davidson – and Andrea Leadsom, Frances O'Grady, Gisela Stuart and Sadiq Khan – will represent what is to come in British politics.

A politics of hope; of diversity in genders, sexualities, races, cultures and voices. 

Let's hope – no, let's pray – that in the future we'll be bellowing at our screens in celebration of a better political landscape, and not staring wordlessly in fear. 

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A brave new world of politics: the leaders of the three major political parties in Scotland (l-r: Ruth Davidson, Kezia Dugdale, Nicola Sturgeon)

Pictures: Getty Images and Rex Features

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