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I confess that I've never been a great fan of canvassing by political parties but in this last general election, being a loyal party member now, I felt honour bound to get involved and I must confess that - on the whole - I actually enjoyed it1.

I think the first think to say is that, largely speaking, this isn't about convincing people to vote for your candidate - it's just a data gathering game. What you're trying to do is identify people who will, or who may, vote for your candidate so that you can concentrate on getting them to vote.

So that means hitting them with extra, often addressed, leafleting beforehand and then activity on the day to get them to actually vote.

All of this only works if you've got enough active members to put the hours in and, from what I could see, our local SNP branch has the most bodies willing to do that across the constituency. So when our MP was out in other areas of the constituency there would typically be him, two or three members of his staff, and a councillor plus one or two local members.

When he came to Nairn however we typically had a minimum of six to eight and on one memorable occasion all this lot (plus me).

Super Saturday
Super Saturday canvassers and leafleters

Which meant that we ended up with two canvassing crews plus one leafleting crew (for those who didn't want to canvass).

Oh, and at the same time, we had a stall on the high street.

Super Saturday
Super Saturday high street stall

I'd done one canvassing session back in the summer, although only standing alongside the old hand who was actually doing the talking while I saw how it worked. For this election I was going from door to door alone and, to be honest, it's what I prefer to do as it's a job and I want to concentrate on the task in hand and do it as efficiently as I can.

Early on I timed myself and assuming the person would talk to me, and some people wouldn't of course, I could get from "hello" to thanking them for their time in under two minutes so you can get through a lot of doors in a couple of hours canvassing.

As for organisation the SNP, like other parties, have a database of all voters on the electoral roll so you know who you're going to speak to (assuming they're not moved) and the way we found worked best was that a crew of up to half a dozen would work a street with one person directing. So they had the list and told each person which door to go to and who they would find there. We would then ask the questions, get answers, and then report back to the director who would write down the answers. And repeat.

Canvassing in Lochloy
Preparing to canvass in the last week of the campaign

Once the campaign really kicked off and parliament had stopped we had our MP, now candidate, Drew Hendry out canvassing with us. Rather than him canvassing directly he would hover in the street and as soon as he saw us get someone to answer with whom we were having a positive conversation he would come in after us and introduce himself (while we moved to the next door). He was a pleasure to watch in action: a classic people person.

It was also noticeable how many people, once I said I was out canvassing with Drew, wanted to speak to him and sometimes I had to go and find him to send him over to say hello. It was very clear to me that the work he and his office team had been doing over the last few years helping constituents with their individual issues was paying off.

Oh, and a final thought on canvassing, if you're new to it then I can recommend going and canvassing somewhere else as you know you'll not meet anyone you know and probably never speak to these people again - so if you make a complete mess of it it's not the end of the world. For example I had to go to a party meeting in Inverness one night so I went to Kirkhill, a village on the other side of the city, and canvassed there for a while before my meeting. It was tipping down with rain but we had a good session.

Some random observations on the constituents I spoke to:

  • Of all the people I spoke to only one planned to vote Lib Dem. Bear in mind this is a constituency whose previous MP was Danny Alexander so a lot of Lib Dem voters have switched their vote.
  • Every Labour voter shared two characteristics: they were self-labelled lifelong Labour voters and they were elderly. I don't think I found one under seventy. Labour is in big trouble here, as it is all over Scotland (and this pre-dates the Corbyn factor, they've been in trouble for some years).
  • As well as finding out who they intended to vote for we also asked, unsurprisingly, how they would vote in the next independence referendum. Quite a few SNP voters said they would vote "No". This isn't that rare in my experience: the SNP are doing a good job in Scotland now and some people are voting for them because of that, or because they're now the natural party of opposition up here if you hate the Tories (and Johnson in particular, who is pretty much universally loathed).
  • The funniest, and saddest, comment I got was from the person who said she would have voted UKIP if they'd put up a candidate as "that Nigel Farage has done so much for our country". I was too flabbergasted to ask precisely what he'd done.
  • The most depressing thing was the number of people who said they never voted. These were generally young and very often people at the poorer end too, who rely on the state for support, and for whom the difference to their standard of living was going to vary significantly over the next five years depending on who got elected.
  • The other non-voting group were older and they had pretty much given up on politics and politicians as "they're all the same".

The sad thing about both of those last two groups is that, if I had the time, I'd have liked to debate this - but when you're canvassing the whole point is to win by finding people who will vote for your candidate and it really is a numbers game. On that basis the people in these groups are better than people who say they're voting for another party so sadly, unless you've got a lot of time, it's best to simply count it as a half win and walk away as that's the best use of your time.

Anyway the important thing is that Drew won, and with an increased majority, so our work paid off and it also provided us with a lot of data for the next independence referendum.

  1. I meant to write about all this immediately after the election but for various reasons I've been a bit distracted so I'm only just starting to catch up. If I'm in the mood I'll write another post about election day and also one about the other parties and how depressing First Past The Post is.

Tags: Nairn, national politics, Scotland Written 05/01/20

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