Picture by Pete Prodoehl

The Electoral Commission has published the full breakdown of election spending for the Holyrood elections.

The first thing that reading the returns showed me was the terrible handwriting endemic throughout the people responsible, and I write as a dysgraphic well used to trying to decipher my own scrawl.

The second thing was how, despite clear instructions to the contrary, some parties (cough) filled in the pence rather than rounding up to the nearest pound. The 5 main parties are summarised in the table below:

Party Lib Dems % Tories % Greens % Labour % SNP %
Broadcasts 4558 2.59 5088 1.86 7630 5.76 46235 5.66 71961 6.30
Advertising and publicity material 8441 4.79 664 0.24 10698 8.08 115985 14.20 294601 25.80
Unsolicited material 104274 59.15 200150 73.19 73872 55.77 545745 66.81 405728 35.54
Manifesto 1972 1.12 4062 1.49 2665 2.01 9147 1.12 14067 1.23
Market Research / Canvassing 20680 11.73 1434 0.52 1860 1.40 32623 3.99 201613 17.66
Media 73 0.04 1922 0.70 14123 10.66 6153 0.75 32269 2.83
Transport 10530 5.97 10475 3.83 980 0.74 16798 2.06 34957 3.06
Rallies and other events 1936 1.10 1783 0.65 193 0.15 19695 2.41 20689 1.81
Overheads and general administration 23836 13.52 47884 17.51 20770 15.68 24503 3.00 65777 5.76
Total 176300 100.00 273462 100.00 132463 100.25 816888 100.00 1141662 100.00

What was really interesting was the different patterns in each party. The Tories and the Lib Dems didn’t really bother with print advertising or broadcasts, focussing  on unsolicited material. The Greens spent a fair chunk on media, much more proportionally than any other party and more in absolute terms than anybody other than the SNP.

The biggest difference, to my eye, is the huge importance the SNP put on market research / canvassing. From the invoices the much vaunted (and equally envied) iPhone app cost them £8k, which in the scheme of things is buttons and must surely represent one of the best value investments in the history of campaigning?

They seem to have employed a number of people through recruitment agencies on low wages (you don’t get much as a temp from the agency when the client’s paying £10/hour) for thousands of hours for “telemarketing” and “customer service” throughout the campaign working at an SNP National Call Centre in their Edinburgh HQ. Combined with the invoices for  for polling work and research running from February the impression given is that there was a huge phone operation running for months both getting their message out and measuring how it was working. There’s also 1000 hours from First Opinion and BSS invoice for 47 thousand contacts on polling day itself which point to a massive get out the vote drive run from Edinburgh.

Labour, on the other hand, ran 16 focus groups, 4 of which were in Edinburgh and Glasgow through Red Circle Communications. That’s it. There’s an invoice from Leftfield Communication for 6 focus groups held in Wales but I think we can assume that’s been misclassified and one from the Labour Party in England from January.

The party spent a huge amount on on bumpf and had no idea if it was working. None at all. Now, that was pretty clear from my vantage point of shoving it through folks letter boxes but I’d assumed there’d at least been some polling done before it went out. Nope. There was volunteer phone canvassing going on but that was for voting intention and there’s no way that that constitutes useful data about what is or isn’t working.

Labour seems to have been flying blind, intent on being heard as much as possible and with no idea about whether what it was saying was in any way effective, why it was effective or how a different message would play. The line that Labour was “micro-targeting key groups” doesn’t really stand up, but nice try.

I  still maintain that the difference in available cash played a part in the SNPs victory, but there’s no denying that the scale of Labours defeat in May was somewhat self inflicted. You just can’t shout into a void.