Michelle Stanistreet, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, last week criticised the proliferation of stage-managed political events where members of the public are kept away from politicians. This has become the norm for party leaders, as indicated by Jim Murphy’s recent ‘dawn raid’ events, where his early starts for his pretend ‘public rallies’ in front of his own activists are designed to help control access, as well as photo-opportunities.
But before the age of such managed rallies, there was an earlier iteration of this form of controlled photo opportunity. This was where, rather than spend a lot of campaign money on a series of posters around a constituency, the campaign would instead have one poster made up and put on a billboard, with the appropriate party candidate standing smiling in front of it. The idea being that rather than produce many hundreds of ads with the huge associated costs of renting the advertising space, one picture in a newspaper would achieve a far greater effect. I saw a promotional photograph from just such a Scottish Conservative event recently. Ruth Davidson was standing grinning in front of a new billboard poster with the Referendum campaign’s ‘No Thanks’ poster sitting below a ‘do a deal with the SNP?’ text. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was either an ill-thought out idea – or something consummately brilliant.
The image is designed to resurrect the key ‘No’ emblem from the last months of the Referendum campaign, when the ‘No’ campaign had decided that ‘Better Together’ was not working as a brand identity slogan. So instead (and perhaps to rebrand themselves as polite, rather than somewhat thuggish and bullying, as they had been increasingly appearing) along came ‘No Thanks’. It seems a slightly odd move – is Ruth trying to convince the Scottish electorate that the Conservatives were opposed to the SNP and wanted to keep the Union – therefore vote for them again? I am not exactly sure that that was something that the electorate would ever have got confused about – until comparatively recently, the Conservatives were the only political party that carped on about the Union, wrapping themselves in flags at every opportunity to boast about involvement in any military conflict they could barge their way into. In short, I do not think that their position viz a viz the Union would have been forgotten.
And yet – conversely – think of the key ‘No’ party in the Referendum campaign – the one that did all the work: Cameron’s little helpers who were at the forefront of ‘No’ recently tried to rebrand themselves as a party of ‘Yes’ with their short-lived ‘Yes for Labour’ campaign – before it was ridiculed widely in the press, and quietly taken outside to a distant paddock and disposed off. They were clearly very far from being a ‘Yes’ party during the Referendum, and indeed were happy to tell everyone that…until after the vote, when the polls started moving away from them at a rate of knots. Now, they certainly seem convinced that they have to somehow distance themselves from their leading role last year, as their best damage limitation strategy.
And yet not so Ruth and her Conservatives: happy, and very much at home with the message that they were a part of that campaign. More than that – by embracing the logo, they take OWNERSHIP of the ‘No’ campaign – and remind everyone for whom Scottish Labour were working throughout that campaign. I think that ‘No Thanks’ poster sends exactly the right message – the close association with a Conservative campaign, kind of underlines who the ‘No’ vote was really for.
But to whom? In that sense, I wonder how much Ruth’s photo opportunity – and her big cheesy grin – are actually aimed at the Scottish public, as opposed to Scottish Labour. The ‘No Thanks’ image sends a very clear message from the Conservatives, to Jim Murphy’s mob: ‘we owned you – and you fell for it.’
As long as the Scottish public don’t get the impression that that message is aimed at them, I think she could do quite well out of this election.
“Ever since the modern SNP was created, around 1974, opinion polls have shown that Scottish people have a positive view of the SNP. They think the SNP stand up for Scotland’s interests. The Labour Party doesn’t understand that.” (Gerry Hassan)