As selection boxes from Christmas are finished off, the selection of SNP candidates for the Westminster Elections is well underway. The polls look good, we have a flock of enthusiastic candidates and an astonishing membership nearing 100,000 strong. As exciting as this is, there’s a long way to go before the 7th of May, and I’m determined that we should use this time to ready ourselves for a campaign that won’t be easy to win.
My experience of the three previous Westminster elections – 2001 and 2005 in Aberdeen and 2010 in Glasgow – was that regardless of the very hard work we put in, the voting public weren’t buying the campaign.
In Glasgow East, we were defending John Mason’s by election win and believed were in a position of some strength with a well-known local MP. We pulled out all the stops, alas to no avail. The feeling of dread watching Labour votes tumble from ballot boxes right across the constituency was matched by a frustration that our efforts seemed to have been for nothing.
So what went wrong, and how can this campaign be different? For me, the media onslaught which marginalises the SNP in UK elections had been too much. We had been excluded from the leaders debates, we weren’t anywhere on the UK news agenda. Even in the Scottish media, the most coverage we got for Glasgow East was from the BBC Scotland journalist who pitched up to do a piece to camera outside our campaign rooms as we were clearing them out!
We still need to to all we can to influence the UK media given it’s significance but also as we established in the Yes campaign, use an insurgent social media presence in addition to the more traditional leaflets and doorstep work. There are more opportunities than ever before to get our message across and all local campaigns should be working hard on this.
This campaign also sees a huge number of fresh candidates – Edinburgh North and Leith’s recent hustings featured twelve would-be candidates with a range of talents and backgrounds on offer. For my own part, I’m part of a pool of nine candidates for Glasgow Central and it’s a very tough contest. The very interest in contests going on simultaneously across Scotland is different not just for Westminster selections, but for all that I’ve been aware of in my time in the SNP. I’m looking forward to seeing a much more diverse and balanced slate of candidates that we’ve ever managed to put forward before, hopefully with many new voices coming in as well as more experienced ones.
Events since the referendum should also give us some encouragement – as Margaret picked up on in last week’s column, Scottish Labour continue to be weak, unfocussed and out to mislead the public. Their appointment of controversial spin doctor John McTernan demonstrates even more that they have lost their way; his Blairite, pro-Trident, pro-privatisation and anti-living wage stances could not be further out of step with post-indyref Scottish Politics. Even more worrying is the nasty streak which he brought to Australian politics. Even more worrying is the nasty streak which he brought to Australian politics. That’s something we can definitely do without in the campaign ahead; we’ve got a positive message to offer, and Scotland’s voice needs to rise above the Labour and Tory bickering.