Getting out of the Westminster village, once in a while, is good for anyone heavily involved in politics. That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a few days in PLMR’s wonderful new office in Edinburgh. Having only previously been here for the Festival it’s been a real delight to see the city in its full, crisp, bright, winter glory without the thousands of tourists, students and street performers cluttering up the view.
I also took the opportunity, on a free evening, for a spot of light canvassing with the Liberal Democrats working hard to get Mike Crockhart re-elected as the MP for Edinburgh West. On what was the coldest canvassing session I have ever been on in my whole political life, (they are clearly made of tougher stuff the campaigners here than my usual southern fellow door knockers) I got a warm reception and a nice reminder of how nuanced and complex politics really is on the ground.
Most voters don’t realise this but most of the time when political activists knocks on your door, they are not really looking for a conversation or to try and persuade you to change your mind. They just want data and they want it quickly. Different parties have different tricks for getting that fast. Often the quickest way is to find out the party that people are definitely not going to vote for, and that gives you some useful data to campaign with later.
Last night in Edinburgh, it all seemed a little more complicated than that. So I met lots of traditional Conservative and Labour voters who this time were planning to vote for Mike to keep the SNP out. The last thing they wanted was another referendum and they were more than happy to vote Liberal Democrat tactically to stop it. I also met a few long standing Liberal Democrats, who had found themselves voting Yes to independence and were now not quite sure what to do with themselves. There were people supporting Mike because of things he had achieved locally, but also people who wouldn’t support him because of things the Liberal Democrats have supposedly done, or not done, nationally.
Far and away, the best chat I had was at the last house I knocked on, where a chap told me that he was going to vote for the sitting Liberal Democrat because, “Technically, he’s the only one who gets anything done around here,” and then, slightly less charitably, “He’s the best ‘ee a bad bunch.”
The result of the next election won’t be decided or clearly predicted by the national opinion pollsters, looking at national swings, but on the thousands of complex individual decisions, some tactical, some parochial, some personal, that are recorded, one by one, by clipboard waving political activists freezing on the door steps of battleground seats like Edinburgh West far away from Westminster.