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Spies ahoy!

Four days ago I featured the Westminster report on Russian interference in the UK's political system in my diary blog and wrote;

"As the preparation of today's diary scribbles has involved my visiting five significant state security service web sites, I expect I shall pop up on a few of their lists later today."

I can now report an interesting outcome from Wednesday's writing. I did not happen to tweet or Facebook that day's diary. And yet the statistics for this week show about ten times the usual traffic. Almost all for that one post.

It included a significant uplift in the numbers of readers from the USA and the UK. And no reads from Russia or other former Soviet countries apart from Romania which is second in the list (29% of the total) just behind the UK. My American friends are third.

My main website at http://stewartstevenson.scot/ has a rather different profile. The USA comes top with Italy, Italy!, close behind. The UK is third with under 19% of the readership. And, yes, Russia is there, but with a paltry 1.8%. The most popular recent post was a press release welcoming the return of Saturday Royal Mail deliveries.

Over the long term, there have been over a million visits to my web sites. But only occasionally do I see a straight connection between a particular post and an uplift in readership. This week seems more closely correlated with the subject matter than before.

The next Scottish Parliament General Election, which is expected to be on the 6th of May 2021, will be the first for a couple of decades without my name on the ballot paper. I shall, after all, be 75 next year. But far from the last, subject to my continuing good health and fitness, which will see my active participation.

We can already see that it is likely to involve less face-to-face campaigning. We are much more constrained than previously in using the telephone, partly because of GDPR rules about personal data but also about the non-publication by people of their number.

So social media and the web will be an important part of campaigning.

Facebook is not going to attempt to fact check political advertising. That's their position for the US Presidential election. The first votes are cast by post in early September. We'll see if they are still sticking to that next year for our election.

Twitter, by contrast, has decided not to accept any political advertising. I predict that simply will not hold. Much of their effect on politics comes from people posting, which is free. And although we have seen some headline suppression, or flagging, of the most egregious lies - from Trump, for example - it will play a part.

The traditional local newspapers continue to be in decline although I suspect their readership, on average somewhat older than the general population, may be disproportionately inclined to vote. We ignore them at our peril.

It has been some years since town hall meetings or hustings have played a significant part in an election campaign. Even when they attracted uncommitted electors in their many hundreds, they were mostly the week of the poll. Too late to be reported in the papers. Readerships would always vastly outnumber attendees.

Trump made an art form of the mass rally. And without the legal requirement for broadcasters in the States to deliver political balance, Ronnie Reagan abolished that, the mass meetings have been broadcast live. That's been a part of why the current President has been able to lie unchallenged on more than twenty thousand occasions. Twitter has also amplified his mistruths, mostly through postings rather than advertising.

But the very big difference between our election next year, and the current Presidential election for which candidates across the Atlantic are currently girding their loins is - money. Here what Trump spent on his last campaign;

"Trump's 2016 campaign, run on a shoestring budget, cost $878 million" (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/21/trumps-reelection-effort-has-spent-more-than-983-million-record-sum-this-point-campaign/)

The spending limits in a Scottish General Election, they are broadly the same across the UK, are a tiny fraction for each elector of what's spent over there.

No one but the super-dooper-mega-rich can contemplate a Presidential campaign with any equanimity about the cost.

Being rich here does not enable you to buy a seat in any legislature.

When I first got involved in political campaigning many decades ago, shear sweat won elections. To get the election address delivered to each voter meant providing Royal Mail with, in a typical constituency, over sixty thousand individually addressed envelopes. And there were no computers to print labels. Every name and address had to be handwritten.

If you can imagine a fantasy land where your addressing scribe volunteers had a near superhuman commitment, then you are in a world of seven day weeks and ten hour days to get ten thousand envelopes written per person. Then you only have to stuff an election address in each envelope, seal it and make sure it is organised for delivery to Royal Mail's specification. But it was done that way.

When I first stood in 1999, the computer had assumed much of the hard drudge. Our office, which was supporting campaigns in two seats, made 45,000 telephone calls, 9,000 of them on polling day. That took thirty people. It was honest toil, and most candidates would be in a similar position, provided by people who believed in the message of their candidate and party.

When you have a Presidential election that will cost well north of two billion dollars, it becomes a mere commercial transaction with small groups of local volunteers almost an afterthought. The cost per vote will be between ten and twenty times what it may be with us.

As we move forward, this weekend the Spanish failure to get a grip of the pandemic has forced a modest backtrack, beyond the peak of infections caused by the pandemic, we know that we will move into a changing world.

Changed for people, businesses, our leisure and for our politics.

I look forward to playing my part.

And to see a good proportion of those entitled to, actually voting.

To seeing a result that does not simply serve a single class or interest.

A Parliament for the next set of challenges.


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