Nicola Sturgeon met my Auntie Patsy over the weekend, then was kind enough to tweet a picture of their encounter (below). Seeing her sandwiched between the two people most likely to break up the union was odd, but so was discovering that many members of my extended family are now voting SNP. Aunt Patsy is, I’m afraid, a typical example: like 1 in 50 Scots she has joined the SNP in the last seven months. She wasn’t really into politics until recently, but has caught the bug (there is a lot of it about in Scotland).
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) April 18, 2015
It got me thinking: what are the odds on a party leader bumping into random voters in England? The campaign is being fought differently up there. Sturgeon is creating panic and disorder through her failure to understand the basic rules of politics:
Don't try to recruit actual members. The age of mass membership of political parties is dead. If she were a proper politician, she’d content herself with plunging membership – knowing that this was a sign of modernity, rather than a party being hollowed out. Nowadays, as any PPE graduate knows, people are too busy/content to actually join parties. Her failure to understand this basic fact of modern politics has seen the SNP membership quadruple since the referendum, causing all of this havoc.
Don't bother with genuine rallies and meetings - town-hall politics belongs in the last century. In the digital age, people just like to follow party leaders on Twitter not actually see them speak. Or attend rallies. Sturgeon only encountered my aunt because of her ignorance of the first rule of today's politics: never meet the actual voters, or you could end up with a Gillian Duffy moment. All you need to do is bus a few activists into cowsheds – get enough placard-holders for a backdrop for the cameras, job done. That’s how politics is carried out: not on soapboxes, not by showing passion, or selling out the SECC or town-hall meetings. Sturgeon has so much to learn.
Treat grassroot party members as you would embarrassing relatives: they are the old guard, nutjobs, a liability. As everyone knows, party leaders expand their support by giving the impression that even they dislike their existing supporters. Sure, that annoys the poor sods who pay their membership fee and push envelopes through letterboxes in the rain. But, hey, who else are they going to vote for? And it’s not as if they’ll refuse to campaign for you when the election comes. Word-of-mouth politics (i.e., enthused supporters persuading work colleagues and neighbours to vote for you) died with the invention of 3G. Now, all you needis the press. Voters are imbeciles, who believe whatever they read. Hence the importance of spin: you control the press, who in turn control the voters. A tame columnist is worth a hundred constituency associations.
Run a ruthlessly narrow campaign: technology allows you to ignore most voters. Most elections are decided by about 30,000 swing voters in swing seats – and nowadays there are clever computers which can tell you where these voters live. Focus groups then help you identify the trigger messages which will change the mind of your target voters. So you don’t need to fight a national campaign, or pitch to a whole country. Just aim your campaign at a narrow number of people whose vote will be decisive. Remember: they don't mean a thing if their seat's not a swing! It’s embarrassing seeing Sturgeon adopt a scattergun approach, pitching her party at rural and urban, Highland and central belt. If the SNP could afford the right American consultant, she could spare all the shoe leather and adopt the 21st century approach to campaigning: just junk mail a few thousand voters and be done with it. Campaign sorted!
Bring out the bludgeon: negative campaigning wins elections. She’s talking and behaving like an amateur, trying to capture voters’ imagination with uplifting messages about what Scotland can become. She evidently doesn't know that, in any given situation, the most effective message is: 'Vote for me, because the other guy is even worse!'. So do not spend the campaign selling your own message: simply attack your opponents. Crush 'em. Negativity wins. Has no one told Sturgeon?
So Nicola Sturgeon is fighting this election using tactics that belong in the 1970s, tactics being used by no other party. Not only is this hugely un-modern but it is causing chaos. So she bears a huge personal responsibility for what is now happening. God alone knows where it will all end.