Thursday, 12 May 2011

About what just happened...

If annihilation has a smell, for me it's wild garlic.

The anti-cyclone that graced these shores throughout the months of March and April 2011, saw the rampant proflegation of the herb along the cycle paths of Edinburgh. This tarmac network was my primary conduit between campaign offices, and the front-lines of Edinburgh Central in what, I'm sure, will go down as one of the most dramatic Scottish Parliamentary electoral defeats of all time.

Selected by the party to fight the seat in July of last year, I had knocked over 14,000 doors and written over 2,000 casework letters to ensure that nothing about the campaign to deliver the seat, notionally given us to by a favourable boundary shift, would be left to chance. In the face of snow storms and single digit poll ratings, my small band of activists, to whom I owe more than I could repay, held our nerve, grew thick skins and pitched head first into the biggest and most sophisticated campaign the Scottish party had ever mounted.

We threw everything a Central and Central threw it back. We came third.

Nothing, not one thing could have prepared us for what happened in the target seat that so many had hoped to provide a little slice of good news in an inevitably grim election. Going into polling day, everything was as it should have been, our door to door canvas returns were great, our national poll ratings seemed to be recovering whilst the Labour party (our chief competition) was on its knees and had launched an attack leaflet going after me personally in the dying hours of the campaign. The later development, we thought, was proof positive that they were picking up what we thought we were seeing on the doors. Indeed they were losing the seat. Just not to us.

When the first hints of defeat came in from the count, I sent Alistair Carmichael MP, who was going into bat for us as a talking head on the results programme, a two word text message:

'Looking ropey'

to which he replied:

'not just you mate'

This was the point the bubble burst for me. The point at which I realised that I had constructed a pleasant fiction in which this campaign was being fought, a fiction in which, I believed, we could sidestep the coalition issue and focus on the record of delivery in our time in government in Scotland or on what I was doing at a neighbourhood level. No dice.

As political massacre's go, last Thursday's was pretty chuffing total. Seats that had been long celebrated as citadels of liberalism, were swept away in the nationalist surge. It was so bad that after getting over the initial shock, many of us settled into a sleep deprived brand of gallows humour. At one point, Emma Sykes my volunteer coordinator, after losing her own deposit in Almond Valley uploaded a facebook status update:

'Look, can everyone just stop getting shot?!'

I got off lightly. I have a job that I love and a lot to look forward to in the shape of a new baby and a growing toddler. I look at the MSPs we lost and their staff who will now be made redundant, this was their life's work and their livelihoods. So I say again, I got off lightly.

Without question, the decisions taken by my party to form a coalition with the conservatives and what's happened since, formed the architecture of our downfall, but if so I accept it. As I said after the count, if my defeat is part payment for the fact that no child seeking asylum in this country will ever again have to face a night in a detention centre. Then I accept it. I didn't get into politics to win elections after all.


  1. Couldn't agree more with every single word of this. The moment you said "if my defeat is part payment for the fact that no child seeking asylum in this country will ever again have to face a night in a detention centre. Then I accept it." on polling night was the moment I realised that we really are a party of principled people.


  2. Great opening piece Alex, incredibly honest. I'm pleased you've now joined the ranks of Scottish Lib Dem bloggers and I look forward to future contributions. I don't yet know you well but I've been impressed by what I have seen so far and sadly you were simply one of many undeserving losers last Thursday. I have no doubt that your time will come, though.