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by Louise Wilson
02 June 2024
Sketch: Making a splash on the campaign trail

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Making a splash on the campaign trail

Rumours of the general election started with a trickle. The economic data, they said, was for the first time in months not awful. Not exactly good, but not terrible. The Tories could work with that.

Then Downing St repeatedly refused to rule out an election announcement. The trickle turned to a steady flow. There were reports of Cabinet members being called in; SpAds told to be there on pain of death; Lord Cameron was instructed to fly back from Albania. The press grew more fevered. It was just a matter of waiting for the announcement of The Announcement.

Then, “5PM”, the first peel of thunder swept through the Westminster lobby. The dam burst. This was it. It was truly, finally, happening.

Just as soon as there was a gap in the rain, the lectern was outside No 10. The PM arrived not long after… and on his tail, the deluge.

Were those raindrops on his cheeks or tears?

Labour say the Tories can’t organise a piss up in a brewery, but since Sunak is teetotal, perhaps that he can’t organise an umbrella in a storm is a stronger metaphor.

And so it was that the prime minister announced the date of the general election as the rain tried to wash him away and a nearby speaker blaring the Labour ‘97 anthem almost drowned him out. Not the suave, sophisticated, statesman-like speech he’d imagined. Were those raindrops on his cheeks or tears? It was truly hard to say.

The warning that Things Can Only Get Wetter turned out to be true when soggy hacks and activists turned up to an Edinburgh hotel for the launch of the SNP campaign the next day.

It was a low budget affair. Though perhaps that was by design, since the SNP won’t want to be seen splashing the cash. Limited space meant ministers had to sit next to journalists. Or maybe having two former teachers – Jenny Gilruth and Kaukab Stewart – at either end of the press row was by design too, an attempt to keep the unruly class in line.

John Swinney took to the stage. He repeatedly mentioned how popular he was – the most popular leader in Scotland! – and that is why he intends to put himself front and centre of this campaign. Hey, if it worked for Humza Yousaf… oh.

Asked by a journalist if the recent dip the SNP had taken in the polls was reflective of discontent with the Scottish Government, Swinney insisted he was “first to accept” that his party had had a “pretty rough time”. That’s why he was standing where he was now. But there is “other information” in opinion polls that he’d like to highlight, he said. Like, off the top of his head, the fact he was the most popular leader in Scotland. Had he mentioned that?

Perhaps Labour was requesting spare change. Pennies may be the only way to get the UK economy on the road to recovery

“People often make choices in elections because of their confidence in the people who are setting out the arguments, in the political leadership. I’m the most popular leader in Scotland, that’s a huge advantage for the SNP,” he humbly claimed.

“We’re going to work hard in every constituency around the country to make sure that I’m visible, leading the campaign from the front as the most popular leader in Scotland.” What? He’s just being truthful. They don’t call him Honest John for nothing.

Sadly, the press didn’t want to dwell on his popularity. They would much rather get answers on Michael Matheson, the former health secretary who Swinney had defended just hours earlier.

Swinney insists he’s just concerned about the reputation of the Scottish Parliament. It’s nothing to do with Matheson being a pal, the first minister insists. He’s just a concerned senior politician worried the parliament is about to make a mistake by punishing someone who… wrongly claimed £11k in expenses then lied about it.

Elsewhere, Alex Cole-Hamilton proved his powers of foresight and brought an umbrella to announce party grandee Jim Wallace would be helping with the Lib Dem campaign. The rainfall kept on hammering down and the pair ended huddled up together under the small gold brolly. Perhaps they are going for the sympathy vote.

The second day on the campaign trail was brighter, just in time for Keir Starmer’s visit to Scotland. In fact, the whole event was so carefully orchestrated that you might wonder whether Sue Gray had made a call to the Storm Gods.

The people holding placards were carefully arranged around the foyer of a Glasgow business to maximise visibility of the word “change” behind the Labour leader. Was “change” a promise? A demand? An instruction? Or perhaps Labour was requesting spare change. Pennies found at the back of the sofa may be the only way to get the UK economy on the road to recovery.

The venue of the speech was a company that manages fridges, surely symbolic of the many Labour pledges which have been put on ice. £28bn for the green economy, an end to the rape clause, getting rid of the House of Lords… Those ideas might be defrosted once Starmer’s comfortably ensconced in No 10.

And, finally, we get to the Scottish Greens, who daringly launch their campaign outside. But then if anyone does really have Mother Nature’s phone number, it’s these guys. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have the phone numbers of many journalists. This launch was more of a ripple than a splash.

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