Friday, 30 March 2012

Bonnyrigg candidates announced

Nominations have now closed and for those with an ear to the ground, the ballot form for the Bonnyrigg ward will hold no surprises. Once again the Lib Dems are not standing and this time none of the socialists or anti-cuts candidates are present.

Jackie Aitchison, as expected, has resigned from the Labour Party to stand as an independent. This is no surprise, given how he has been treated, and it will be interesting to see how much his personal vote holds up. More interesting will be what he says and does during the campaign, and should he fail to be re-elected, where his lower preferences go. His resignation also means that Labour goes into the election without holding an overall majority on the council.

For the SNP, sitting councillor Bob Constable, being above his little known running mate Thomas Munro on the ballot form, I would expect Bob to be re-elected early on in the count. In 2007, Bob received 400 surplus votes and was comfortably elected on the first round of counting. That won't happen this time and Munro will naturally pick up most of Bob's eventual surplus if he can avoid an early exit.

The Conservative candidate Emma Cummings is from Gorebridge and completely unknown in the ward. I am surprised local Tory stalwarts Marnie and Bill Crawford are not standing this time, or at least finding someone a bit more local to fly the flag. However, given a complete lack of activity from the Tories here over the last five years, they must know they have two chances of success - fat and slim - and perhaps it's a case of giving future hopefuls a bit of electioneering experience. Who knows?

The Labour ticket, however, is much more interesting. Sitting councillor and council leader Derek Milligan must fancy his chances now he's above his running mate on the ballot form (I could say more, but space doesn't allow...). Louie Milliken is very much a newcomer and, surprisingly for Labour in what used to be a stronghold for the party, has had little involvement as far as I'm aware, in the community.

Labour looks likely to lose one of its two seats in Bonnyrigg this time. Derek Milligan is the marmite of Bonnyrigg politics - you either love him or hate him, and his name has certainly cropped up a few times on the doorsteps, without my prompting, I should add! The spread of first preferences between these two candidates will be interesting to say the least; however, I do expect alphabetical order to play the biggest hand and Derek will get back in.

So my guess is Bob Constable will be elected early on, followed by Derek Milligan. Without Labour backing, I can't see Jackie surviving. Which means the final place will be between myself, Thomas Munro and Louie Milliken. In local elections, visibility and community activity over a period of time count for much more and personality over party label also plays a part. Turnout will be lower, which will probably hit the Labour vote more than most, and these elections - being separated from the Holyrood vote which took place on the same day last time - will not be clouded by national issues.

On that basis, therefore, I have grounds for a good deal of optimism. However, there's all to play for and I'll be taking nothing for granted over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Knock knock - diary of a canvasser

With five weeks to go, nominations close today for the local elections on 3rd May.

Canvassing is now well underway and I've knocked on around 400 doors in the Bonnyrigg ward. Although so far I've mainly been covering areas where we traditionally pick up support, the response has been amazing. Yesterday while out leafletting, someone came up to me saying he wanted to vote for me but will be going on holiday on 2nd May. I popped round with a couple of postal vote application forms and while chatting, someone else cycled past and stopped to say he and his wife will be giving me their first preference votes after I'd spoken to them on the doorstep the previous day.

I also now have a few people who have offered to display a Vote Green window poster - important as the council has now banned lamppost placards.

If elected, there'll be no time for a rest - I have a growing list of issues people have spoken to me about and I've taken their contact details and will be taking up their cases immediately.

There's a lot of hard work to do over the next five weeks. A three member ward is hard for Greens to break into and there is still a lot of what I call 'tribal' voters - those who vote Labour or SNP by habit and for no other reason. However, most of those seem happy to give me a second or third preference, which could give me a crucial boost once one of the two Labour or SNP candidates is elected and their running mate eliminated during the count. Getting enough first preferences is the priority though, to stay in the count and pick up those transfers.

Five years ago I only canvassed 40% of the ward - those areas where we are most likely to pick up support. This time I'm adding on a few areas where we need to break into the Lab/SNP vote, and yesterday I was in one such street. The result was very encouraging, including the offer of a window poster and a warm reception on most doorsteps.

People want change. The consistent message I'm getting is that the councillors they have are not worth voting for, but they only vote for one lot because they dislike the other lot even more. That makes my job of persuading people to vote for us much easier, of course, but it makes me even more determined to prove that Green councillors are different. Without the tribal vote, Greens have to work hard to get elected, and we have to work hard to get re-elected; and that can only be good for those we hope to represent.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Campaign gets underway

Only 40 days to go and for me, that marks the start of the election campaign proper. Nomination papers are in, election newsletter deliveries started and canvassing sheets printing off as I write.

Tomorrow I start canvassing in the leafy lanes of Lasswade. I was down that way a few days ago delivering newsletters and already got caught up in conversations with people I met - some of whom I already know.

It seems that every street I go down there's someone I know, and over the last few days I've already logged three people I've promised to get back in touch with if elected, to help with issues they are interested in - and doorknocking hasn't even started!

So far there seems little evidence of activity from other parties. Labour has delivered two newsletters - both claiming the credit for new infrastructure provided by the Scottish Government or NHS Lothian, so I'll be interested to see how the SNP campaign reacts to this!

I've also heard that the two Labour candidates have been knocking on doors in Polton. I hope they continue as one  of them once confided to me that he didn't like doorknocking as it tends to alienate as much support as it attracts. In his case, understandable.

In 2007, we were the main recipients of voter transfers in the Bonnyrigg ward. However, a worrying number of votes did not transfer through to the last round of counting. This could be for the legitimate reason that the voters had no preference beyond those they expressed, or it could be because people don't fully understand how the system works.

One questionnaire I had returned said the voter (who had voted Lib Dem previously) wouldn't vote for us because we're too small a party - a bit ironic as the Lib Dems have fewer MSPs than we did at our high water mark and in 2007 we came fourth in this 3-member ward and the Lib Dems didn't stand.

Hence the need for me to speak to people individually. If people want a Green councillor, then they should vote for one with their first preference, and if we're not elected, their vote simply transfers to their second preference. A simple message I will be putting to people over the next five weeks.