Just under three weeks remain until the Holyrood election and it’s time for parties to energise their campaign, get their base out to vote and enthuse their canvassers to chap away on the streets of Scotland. We asked campaigners from across the Scottish political spectrum to give us their take on what’s being talked about on the doorsteps.
What people are telling me on the doorstep is usually the last gasp of a politician losing an argument, when confronted by an overwhelming barrage of facts they don’t like. As such, I am always somewhat careful of the emphasis I place on the information and opinions I pick up when canvassing.
Based on my canvassing experience alone, I would previously have wagered that ‘Yes’ would have won the referendum and that voter turnout would be below 50% in the General Election. Essentially, the people you speak to don’t necessarily represent the community (or the nation) at large. Indeed, we sometimes chose to remove identified supporters in our sessions, which obviously skews results.
Nonetheless, there are certain traits that I think are accurate. Firstly, a huge number of people don’t make up their mind until around a fortnight before the election. Even those who appear knowledgeable about politics will hold off on a decision until they have had time to fully inform themselves. This can be interpreted (wrongly) by some as apathy. Secondly, personality politics remains important – with many people focussing on who they think would make the best First Minister. Thirdly, the NHS remains a sacred cow. However, I believe voters now expect better than ‘we will spend more’ and demand information about specific policies to improve the state of the health service
In my rounds, free school meals has come up as a popular policy a couple of times, but employment and the NHS remain fairly consistent topics. Pensioners often bring up free travel, prescriptions and care.
We think our identified vote is holding up, so we are targeting those we have no info for. It’s looking good. SNP remaining popular and Labour pretty much nowhere.
Scottish Labour campaigner
Most elections feel very specific to their time, the parties judged on a specific policy or their leader. This time the conversations are a bit more thoughtful and even when they are about tax or education (which are coming up most often), they are as much about the past and the future as the present.
Given where Labour have gone through over the last few years in Scotland, I think that’s most true for us among all the parties. It’s quietly encouraging though – people are looking at us in a different light, Kez Dugdale’s message of a party that is changing and wants to talk about change is getting through. It’ll take time but I see a lot to be positive about.
One issue that is coming up a lot – more than I really expected to be honest – is the EU Referendum. People are keen to talk about it, often more so than about the election in three weeks – a pretty high percentage of the voters we’re speaking to are fairly definite about how they’re going to vote on May 5th and are comfortable with their choices. On the EU questions, there’s a lot more undecideds, though I think there’s a majority here for staying in. Labour are in, it’s an issue that unites us and we’re happy to be campaigning on. Of all the parties, we might find the period between May 5th and June 23rd the most significant.
It’s been enjoyable, the conversations are very real ones about the real stuff that’s happening in Scotland right now. Voters are past just hearing about the constitution in politics and that’s a good thing. May 5th just feels like the start of something from our perspective.
Scottish Conservative campaigner
Voters seem to have only really begun to engage fully with this election in recent weeks. Certainly compared to this time last year, folk don’t appear to have the same level of awareness or indeed interest as they did a few weeks before the General Election. I suspect this is because the winner is a foregone conclusion in most constituencies, but it will mean the SNP will have to work to get their voters out.
The messages that only the Scottish Conservatives can be an effective, pro UK opposition to the SNP is certainly resonating on the doorsteps. Ruth Davidson is a popular and convincing leader. Lifetime Lib-Dem and Labour voters are genuinely telling us they will be voting Tory for the first time this year.
Scottish politics has certainly become polarised between those who support the SNP and those who don’t. That is not to say that there is any greater hostility on the doorsteps (beyond the odd nutter), but voters are, increasingly in two camps: those who are going to vote SNP no matter what, or those who want to stop the SNP at all costs.
The number one issue on the doorsteps in the South of Scotland remains the prospect of a second independence referendum. This isn’t something conjured up by the party, it’s a very real concern for people in the most pro-UK parts of Scotland. Following that, confusion over the named person scheme is very common, as are questions about taxation and a desire to have a good constituency representative standing up for local hospitals, schools and investment.
Scottish Liberal Democrat campaigner
The electorate is polarized along the battle lines of the independence referendum. Former Lib Dem voters who voted Yes in the referendum are solidly with the SNP. No voters are falling into our column more and more due to the SNP promoting a second referendum. The one group (predominantly women) that is swithering are those that voted No in the referendum and SNP in the General Election.
In the constituency, we are campaigning in a two-way marginal between the SNP and Lib Dems. The SNP are hoping for the same momentum as last May but I do sense there is less enthusiasm this time. The result will be determined by turnout.
We haven’t gauged a particular interest in the new raft of powers given to Holyrood, from both SNP and Lib Dem supporters. SNP supporters believe that independence is the answer to all of Scotland’s problems, whilst our supporters worry about another independence referendum.
Scottish Greens campaigner
The feeling in the Green campaign is a pretty positive and hopeful one these days. I’m writing this at our brand new campaign hub in the Scottish Trades Union Congress building, in the middle of the Glasgow Kelvin constituency that Patrick Harvie is standing in to win, surrounded by volunteers phoning up Glasgow’s two-thousand Green Party members to energise people for the final push of the campaign.
In Glasgow, we’re looking to elect both Patrick Harvie and Zara Kitson to represent the city – achieving a second Green MSP in Glasgow for the first time in our history. I spent Saturday morning chapping on doors with Zara, and almost everyone we spoke to was either planning on or thinking about voting Green. In the West of Scotland, where 21 year-old Ross Greer is our top candidate, a recent big canvassing session had more people planning on voting Green than voting Labour.
Well, we’re not expecting to beat Labour and become the official opposition this time, but canvassing and opinion polls consistently suggest that we’re well within reach of getting at least one MSP in every region of Scotland.
It definitely looks as though folk are responding positively to our vision of a better, bolder and more radical Scotland; one where we shift the tax burden from the less well-off onto the wealthy, create 200,000 jobs in sustainable industries, scrap the unfair council tax and ban fracking once and for all.