Sketch: A walk in the park with Willie Rennie
Sketch: With the general election fast approaching, the Scottish Lib Dems went to stand on the side of a roundabout
It was a warm, breezy day in Edinburgh and the sun beamed down on the Scottish Parliament. FMQs had finished an hour before and, for most, the business of politics was winding down for the week.
Not for the Scottish Lib Dems though. MSPs may have been preparing to head off to their constituencies for the weekend, but the Lib Dems’ slick, well-oiled campaign machine was still firing – in fact, with the general election less than a month away, it was whirring away faster than ever.
A gaggle of activists was huddled off the side of a roundabout, on the edge of Holyrood Park. Holyrood Palace sat on one side and the Crags lay on the other. Looking up at the cliffs looming above, they seemed as high as Willie Rennie’s optimism.
The party had organised the event as part of efforts to launch its new ‘commit card’ – a card which people could sign as a symbol of their commitment to the Lib Dems. It was sort of like an engagement ring, except the process won’t end with you marrying Willie Rennie. Or it probably won’t, anyway.
And so confidence was high, though with Rennie due to arrive in five minutes, only eight people had shown up. Two were photographers and one was a sketch-writer. The wind picked up.
Some doubts seemed to be spreading among those present. Where was everyone? The group spotted one man crossing the road. He seemed to be walking in the general direction of the activists. Was it another party member, on his way to bolster numbers? “It could be anyone,” someone pointed out. It could be a hillwalker, or a tourist. “No, you can tell by their gait,” another responded. “There’s a difference.”
Do Lib Dems walk differently? Who knows. Still, eventually another man arrived. Most of the people there were men. “I had been having lunch nearby, so thought I’d come along,” the newcomer explained. The group nodded approvingly. The Lib Dems are pro-Europe, pro-UK, and pro-lunch. It would have been a nice spot for a picnic, if anyone had brought one.
Sadly, there was no time to find out what he’d had for lunch, because a late rush of activists was imminent. A sense of anticipation grew among the crowd. Now at least nine people were there, not including the media or party staff.
Everything was ready, and Rennie arrived soon after, smiling as brightly as the sun above him. He had brought along a giant version of the commit card, as well as a normal-sized version of fellow MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton.
The leaflets, he promised, would be “going out right across the country”.
“We have a great chance of winning in a large number of seats,” he asserted, as the giant card blustered in the wind.
There were three pledges on the commit card – to stop another divisive independence referendum, to oppose the Conservatives’ damaging hard Brexit and to invest in Scottish education and mental health.
“The reason we picked these priorities is because people are fed up with another divisive independence referendum, they are fed up with the Conservatives’ hard Brexit, and they want to invest in mental health and in education,” Rennie explained.
Picking priorities that people wanted certainly made sense – much more sense than picking things people didn’t want.
And apart from the fact that only a handful of people had turned up at an event in the centre of Scotland’s capital with the election less than a month away, things were going pretty well. It was, quite literally, a walk in the park – though of course that is largely ineffective as a campaign technique.
Alex Cole-Hamilton held onto the giant card, smiling nervously as he tried to stop it blowing away. Rennie signed it. “These are our priorities,” Rennie said, before adding hopefully, “we should do really well”.
But wasn’t there a danger the whole pledge card idea would just remind people of the party’s famous betrayal over tuition fees? After all, they used a giant pledge card that time too.
Rennie didn’t think so. “It will say to people that if they support another divisive independence referendum, if they support a Conservative hard Brexit, then they should vote for those parties rather than us. But if they want to oppose it then they should be with us.”
How many people did he expect to sign the cards?
Rennie nodded, considering the question. “We have no upper limit,” he decided. “There are four million voters in the country and, you never know, they could all sign them.”
Indeed, you never know, and perhaps they will.
After that things ran more or less as you would expect. Photographers chased Willie Rennie around the park. “You’ll be asking me to do a handstand next,” he chuckled, warning, “I’m not sliding down the hill.”
“Willie Rennie!” shouted Alex Cole-Hamilton, with both arms aloft.
Next they made Rennie cross the yellow speed lines on the road, in some sort of half-baked attempt to recreate the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover, but there were only three people available. A staffer ran over and tried to cajole one of the huddled activists to help. “Is that it?” one man asked. “Can we go home now?”
Not yet. There is a still a month to go, and the Lib Dem campaign engine is just getting started.
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