Sunday, 13 February 2011

Blind Date

THE SNP has been forced to reschedule its pre-election conference after a mix-up over dates, raising questions about its preparedness for May.
The Nationalists had planned to hold their crucial spring rally over the last weekend of March, after the Scottish parliament dissolves for the election on the 22nd.
However this would have stopped broadcasters giving the event its usual extended coverage, as all parties must receive equal airtime during the official campaign period.
It is understood the SNP hierarchy was repeatedly warned about the issue, which flows from Electoral Commission rules, but was slow to act.
Last month, Susan Ruddick, the SNP’s corporate development manager, insisted the conference date was "most definitely the 26th and 27th" of March.
Then, two weeks ago, without any explanation, Ms Ruddick issued a statement saying it would be in Glasgow on March 12 and 13 instead.
The new date means broadcasters will be able to give the conference far more coverage, and do not need to balance it with comments from the other main parties at Holyrood.
An SNP insider said the elementary mistake reflected a lack of focus among the leadership, who were increasingly jittery about feedback from private polling on how voters viewed Labour Iain Gray and First Minister Alex Salmond.
"Iain Gray is a blank canvas to most people, but that also means there are no negatives to pin on him," said the source. "People aren’t hostile towards him, they’re neutral. Whereas Alex Salmond is divisive. He’s not going down well." 

I emailed Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive, the following:

Subject: Conference dates
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2011 16:43:15 -0000
Hi Peter
Can you tell me why the SNP conference was moved from the last weekend in March to the 12th and 13th?
I understand it was because you failed to appreciate that the last weekend fell within the restricted period for broadcasting, when all parties are due equal airtime, despite this being laid down by the Electoral Commission.
That being so, do you think this shows the SNP is poorly prepared for the coming campaign?
He didn't reply. 
The query was apparently devolved to head of press Liz Lloyd.
She didn't answer the questions, but she did provide a comment:
"Our spring conference is shaping up to be our biggest yet. It will be an exciting launchpad for the final phase of our drive to protect Scotland's progress and to build Scotland's future.
"We obviously scheduled our event to maximise the coverage.

"By contrast, Labour have managed to secure no pre-election TV conference coverage at all because of having their spring 2011 conference last autumn - and have even scheduled their one-day event in March to clash with the Tory conference."
So two wrongs make a right? You decide.

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