Campaigning during a pandemic: One Holyrood hopeful uses novel method to attract support

A HOLYROOD hopeful is to become the first MSP candidate to launch a virtual campaign hub amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Angus Robertson, who is hoping to become the SNP’s candidate for Edinburgh Central, will launch his online platform today in the hope of convincing members he should stand for the seat.

Robertson, the party’s former deputy leader and MP, is facing stiff competition from several other SNP members for the nomination.

However, the pandemic, and a change in the party’s campaigning rules, has left some struggling to reach supporters.

GDPR rules have also made it harder for candidates to reach potential supporters, with the SNP only allowing those seeking nomination to campaign via online hustings, through their social media pages or website, and via email.

Candidates are allowed to speak to people they already know, but are not given addresses of members in their area as they would have had historically.

Traditionally those seeking nominations would go door-knocking, appealing to members face to face to support their bid and explain why they are the best person for the candidacy.

Now the party rules mainly permit members to reach out to candidates themselves, not the other way round, except in certain circumstances.

In the midst of the pandemic, canvassing and campaigning has becoming even more difficult prompting Robertson to create his online “Talk to Angus” platform which will go live today.

SNP members keen on speaking to the former MP will be able to book a time slot online, and arrange a phonecall or video chat with the politician.

Robertson said: “SNP members should be able to speak with their potential candidates and this online system makes it easy to organise.

“Members just need to visit my website and make an appointment at a time that suits them. We can then have a coffee and a chat over the phone or on a Zoom call.

“With SNP membership over 1,400 in Edinburgh Central I will spend time speaking with undecided members who want to raise their priorities before casting their vote.”

If he wins the nomination, and subsequently the seat, he intends to continue using the platform for constituency surgeries, mirroring John Nicolson MP who has adopted a virtual system to speak to members of the public.

He said: “Should I be selected and elected as the SNP MSP for Edinburgh I intend to continue using the online system for constituent surgeries. Outgoing Tory MSP Ruth Davidson has an appalling track record for not holding publicly advertised surgeries and in contrast I want to be as accessible as possible for constituents.”

It comes after fellow Holyrood hopeful Chris McEleney was reported to the Information Commissioner after accessing members’ details and contacting them.

The Inverclyde councillor was said to have accessed personal information of party members and supporters without their permission, and sent notices to their home addresses.

The notices are thought to have arrived in July with a number of complaints made to the ICO about a data breach. However, the watchdog said the SNP “indicated they are satisfied the issue does not meet the threshold for data breach reporting to the ICO”.

The SNP was forced to extend the deadline for candidates to apply for nomination last week, citing the volume of applications and the time taken to vet candidates, as well as processing any appeals.

Next year’s Holyrood contest is set to bring a new wave of political talent to the fore with a host of familiar and longstanding politicians announcing they would stand down ahead of the vote.

SNP MSPs Sandra White, Jeane Freeman, Mike Russell, Alex Neil and Gail Ross are just five of the 14 SNP MSPs who have announced they will not be standing next year,

Ruth Davidson and Adam Tomkins are among four Scottish Conservatives who will not seek re-election, while Labour is set to lose five of its current MSPs including Neil Findlay and Elaine Smith.

Green MSP John Finnie, LibDem Mike Rumbles and former SNP MSP, now independent, Mark McDonald will also stand down before the May 2021 polling day.

Potential SNP candidates have until 4pm tomorrow – Monday, 21 September – to advise the party’s National Secretary of their interest in running in a particular constituency.

A confirmation ballot will take place in seats with a sole nominee by the end of September, which is expected to be the case for most sitting SNP MSPs.

Where there is a contest for the nomination, ballot papers will be issued during October and November.

Voting is scheduled to be completed in all seats by November 18 at the very latest.

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