Monday, 2 May 2011

The Letter of the Lore

Just three days to go until the election here in Scotland. So far I've ignored the leaflets that have come through my door - I'd already read the party manifestos and interviewed several of the candidates, so they hardly seemed important - but today I decided it was time for me to take a look at them. I have, after all, been commenting on the various election broadcasts over on my Twitter account; and let me tell you, that's been a depressing process.

Whatever you do for a living, I'm sure you can sympathise with that feeling of discomfort at watching somebody else do it badly. I'm a writer and my partner Stuart is a photographer, so election leaflets often instil in us a sense of professional dread. This is accompanied by a desire to take certain candidates under our wings and fix their problems for them because, damn it, nobody should be presented that badly... but of course, where that would involve helping out those whose policies we are also at odds with, it quickly becomes uncomfortable.

As is always the case in these situations, some parties have been trying harder than others, and some have had more advantages than others. I haven't seen a single Green Party leaflet despite having heard in painstaking detail about how they were made and distributed, a process designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Perhaps they biodegraded naturally before they got to me. Alternatively, recycled paper may simply have made them extra tasty to our house rabbit, Murphy. He eats quite a lot of unwanted mail. Last month he particularly enjoyed ripping up the BNP leaflet, with the result that I am not able to give it a proper review here. I recall it featuring one of those wide-eyed little girls ubiquitous in yoghurt adverts, fortifying my subconscious association of the BNP with yeast infections. I wondered offhand where they got the girl's photograph from, as they have in the past faced several legal challenges due to helping themselves to images of folk not in the least desirous of being associated with them. I suppose the upside of this is that one thing we don't have to worry about with the BNP is the encroachment of overstringent copyright law.

Also on what seems to be recycled paper, and therefore lucky to have survived are the SNP's leaflets. One features a smiling Nicola Sturgeon; the other, bigger one (naturally), Alex Salmond doing his serious face. The former is addressed to Donald, the latter to Karine (nobody knowingly submits ammunition like this to me). I wonder vaguely if they're intended to have sex appeal. I do hope not. I am amused to see how they emphasise that they are an experienced government, a gentle swipe at those who, last time around, said they could never be trusted with power because they'd never had power. Um...

Anyway, Nicola's leaflet presses a lot of key buttons - there's emphasis on words like 'fair', 'Scotland' and 'future'. Nice use of lists, rhythmic language, party colours balanced without looking too horrible. Nicola has, thankfully, lost her Lego-style haircut and both she and Alex benefit from reasonably good professional photos (far too many candidates still think they can get away with snaps their grannies took at Christmas). Alex's look is too dark and will feed those critics who try to present him as an evil schemer, an unfortunate approach which leads to the promotion of overt stupidity as if it were a political virtue. His leaflet has the whole of the SNP top team on the back trying to look cheerful but actually looking surprised and curious, as if they've just spotted a chance of winning in the distance. It also uses lists with tick marks next to them. They should watch that. It'll only encourage their dimmer voters to put ticks on the ballot papers where they should put crosses, and many returning officers regard such papers as spoiled.

Anyway, the SNP leaflets are not bad over all - considerably above average as pieces of low-budget propaganda go. Similarly impressive is the Conservative leaflet. In Scotland the Conservatives are definitely up against it but they're likely to win a few list seats and in Glasgow Kelvin they have the advantage of a photogenic candidate, Ruth Davidson. Nicely photographed - even the make-up looks professional - she smiles out of a leaflet so attractively laid out that one can almost (almost) forgive its cheesy 'eighties-style use of lateral lines and its failure to understand how capital letters go. Naturally they want to distance themselves from the unpopular Westminster party and the word 'Conservative' doesn't appear here without the word 'Scottish' preceding it. 'Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party' is highlighted on the reverse (good use of space) to stress what is, oddly, still seen as the party's unique selling point; although Labour spout a lot of anti-Nationalist rhetoric the Conservatives seem to be the ones who make real gains from it.

Every policy here is entirely Scotland-focused - fair enough, you might say, but a cautious piece of work all the same. Like the SNP they use the risky trick with ticks. Their achievements look pretty good listed like this - until one recalls, of course, that they didn't develop them alone, simply nudged others and voted along with them. Nothing wrong with that but they seem to expect a lot of credit for it. I'm also amused that they are one of three parties trying to claim credit for a Council Tax freeze they spent some time arguing against.

The only way to fight the Westminster Conservatives, another leaflet tells me, is to vote Labour. "The SNP don't have the clout." Oh dear. Stuart's immediate response was, "By 'the clout', do they mean Iain Gray?" They keep walking into these things. Anyway, this small shiny leaflet features a nice, simple design with boxing gloves (tacky) using primary colours (well done) to sell us the old image of two party left versus right politics. It'll appeal to many of the old faithful.

This is certainly much stronger than their other leaflet, dedicated to the re-election of Pauline McNeil. Pauline is a great constituency MSP but there's too little focus on that here. Plain ordinary paper would have looked better than this cut-price glossy stuff and, though Pauline is not an unattractive woman, the blurry cover photo does her no favours. It also situates her in Buchanan Street, putting the focus on the city centre where it should be on the constituency. In the cluttered interior we are told that jobs and schools are nice and cancer is bad, mmkay? It also makes sure to mention those naughty bankers. Parts of it read as if it's been search engine optimised. The internal pictures are all poor and, really, this is an object lesson in how to get it wrong. At least it respects capital letters.

Alongside this is a letter to Stuart from Iain Gray. Yes, that guy from Central Station. This letter mentions the Tories six times and also name drops David Cameron and Thatcher (in the iconic sense, without first name or title). To put this in context, it only mentions Labour eight times. There are a couple of unsubstantiated swipes at the SNP, curiously rendered in bold type. Policy commitments are mostly vague which does a disservice to the stronger ones, and they would have done better not to mention their knife crime policy, which is getting them into more and more trouble as time goes on. Should have stuck with that first leaflet, guys.

This brings us to the LibDems (I'm sure most of you won't have read this far, but then, most of you won't do more than glance at the leaflets anyway, so I'm assuming some degree of special interest). Natalie McKee is another photogenic candidate (this is starting to look suspicious; do other constituencies have exclusively ugly ones?) whose earnest look just about gets her away with the twee soft-focus image on her promo postcard. The images on the reverse side make it clear she's going for the youth vote. This doesn't excuse the use of a handwriting font, which is not only tacky but will make her policy commitments completely illegible to voters with vision or reading difficulties. It's a shame as one or two of these are strong but others mirror the Conservative leaflet in claiming too much credit for activities in which the LibDems were only one contributing party. None of them does anything to substantiate the claim that Natalie is 'experienced'. Hmm. A larger, glossier leaflet (surely not recycled, making its green pledge look dubious) tells us that, being local, she knows our lives are marred by crime. Um, what? I live at the dodgier end of it, but overall Glasgow Kelvin is one of the safest constituencies in the city. This is pandering to hysteria, not advocating useful local policy. At least this leaflet commits fewer font crimes and is, for the most part, actually legible.

Finally, there's a leaflet from the Respect Party, headlined simply 'How To Vote For George'. Anyone familiar with the redoubtable Mr Galloway will immediately smile at this. It's illustrative of that characteristic arrogance which means that, decades after he dated Donald's aunt, he is still the butt of family jokes at Christmas. The leaflet has been printed by Clydeside Press, a great little outfit who have really done their best but are hampered by, well, the content. Among other things is assures us that George will "defend your basic principles and interests". I suppose he must be telepathic as well as vague. Later it quotes him as saying "I will combat every injustice." Gosh, George, but how will you find time to sit in Parliament?

George "is leading a very strong list of candidates," we are told. None of them have recognisable names. Three of them are students. They may very well be secretly brilliant, but there's nothing here to confirm that.

All in all, it's a better collection of rabbit food than some other elections have provided, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Will any of these leaflets win your vote? If so, don't forget to put big ticks beside the names of your preferred candidates.


  1. In fairness to Pauline, the Glasgow Kelvin constituency stretches from Broomhill to the Cathedral, so Buchanan Street is within the constituency. Was it the two A4 leaflet? We've put out a couple...

    - Aidan

  2. Quite a few of these leaflets have my name and address on them which means that they will have to go through the shredder, which means I have to spend time standing over the machine, feeding them in. Unless of course, I can find someone to undertake this tedious task. I don't suppose Murphy's available for hire, is he?

  3. Aidan, mea culpa. That is one crazily redrawn set of boundaries.

    For the record, I'm not blaming the candidates for any of these shoddy leaflets. I realise their involvement is often minimal.