Scottish election campaign 2021 – fewer animals, more bikes

What does the coronavirus pandemic mean for our election campaign work in the run up to the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May? Our campaigns and policy manager in Scotland, Jim Densham, shares his thoughts

Willie Rennie and the pigs is one of my abiding memories of the previous Scottish Parliament election in 2016. This was the moment when the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader probably wanted to make some important manifesto announcement, but was upstaged by pigs getting frisky in the background.

Photocalls like this are designed to get politicians noticed, to display their support for a particular issue, and to help show their human side.

Animals usually feature quite heavily in these election ‘best bits’ (especially for Willie Rennie who once got into a fight with a ram on a farm in Fife), but this year will be very different.

Coronavirus will be a huge feature of campaigning ahead of the 6 May election, not just in manifesto policies and whether voters think government has done a good job, but also how campaigning can be carried out.

There certainly won’t be photocalls with hundreds of supporters outside Parliament, and disappointingly there is unlikely to be any baby kissing or animal wrangling – so what should the spin doctors line up for party leaders?

I suggest they get their leaders to ride a bike for the cameras. It can be done in a socially distanced way, it would make a good photo for the papers, and of course, all parties should be making commitments for cycling in this election – so why not?

We will have a Cycling UK in Scotland election campaign for Holyrood 2021 to let parties know that cycling is important to people, and that if they say the right things about cycling it could help to get them our votes.

But our election campaigning will have to be different this year, with smart ways to get our message across to voters, parties, candidates and the media. We will not be able to organise mass bike rides or town hall hustings this year.

With your help, we can get cycling on the agenda during this election and secure commitments from the next Scottish Government that will help everyone to cycle

Jim Densham, Cycling UK’s campaigns and policy manager in Scotland

Our election work started last year by developing a manifesto for cycling, with policies or ‘asks’ that we want the political parties to commit to. In 2020, I had meetings and conversations with manifesto writers from all five parties currently represented at Holyrood, to talk about our draft manifesto and their sustainable transport policies.

These were very positive conversations and covered the things we know are important; like greater investment for active travel, more joined-up cycle networks, safer and more attractive streets and neighbourhoods, and enabling people in rural communities to cycle.

The key now is to turn those positive conversations into something more tangible – definite party policies, policies included in manifestos, cycling talked about in a TV debate, the party leader riding a bike for the cameras.

To make this happen we will need your help. We need to show parties that thousands of people support our manifesto. We must challenge MSPs about their cycling and transport policies at online hustings. We need to share our campaign as widely and often as possible on social media.

We need to spread the core message that cycling should be for everyone – not just for sport, for the fit, or for men – but that action is needed from politicians to make that a reality everywhere. To make Scotland better and have cycling as part of a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

We will launch our Manifesto for Cycling in a couple of weeks’ time, and set up an online page where you can your pledge support and tell politicians that cycling is important to you. We will also be collaborating with partner organisations in Scotland and supporting campaigns run by others, such as the We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote campaign, as we have in the past.

Together, and with your help, we can get cycling on the agenda during this election and secure commitments from the next Scottish Government that will help everyone to cycle .