2 May 2011

Kinlochbervie Chronicle: "Lib Dems hope for golden fleece..."

In the latest in our series of Scottish election reports from the Kinlochbervie Chronicle, the paper's political correspondent Ecclefechan Mackay (MA) abandons the Labour Party's political  cavalcade to join the birchy Tavish Scott on the Liberal Democrat campaign trail. As we have come to expect from Mr Mackay's award-winning* journalistic talents, he has managed to tease out the logic underlying the oftimes faltering-looking Liberal campaign, regrettably missed by the lazy Central-belter hacks primarily responsible for covering this election campaign...

"Lib Dems hope for golden fleece..."
Kinlochbervice Chronicle 1st of May

The SNP's Alex Salmond is not often to be spotted palpating a Soay's uterus, while his main opponent, Labour's Iain Gray, has explicitly denied ever wearing a Border cheviot's cervix as a comely if clumsy glove. Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and former Shetland sheep farmer Tavish Scott, by contrast, shows no such reserve. Campaigning in the Borders last week with his  embattled Liberal colleague Jammy Pervs, an unphased Scott demonstrated his rural credentials by gamely going elbow-deep into Phylis, a local ewe, personally delivering her black-faced lamb to the horror and fascination of onlooking journalists. Widely interpreted in the Scottish metropolitan press as just another mucus and womb-smeared photo opportunity, emphasising the leader's rugged rural masculinity, mysteriously, sources in the Liberal campaign confirm that this birth was not an isolated incident. In a series of secret trips from Orkney to Arran, Mr Scott has been taking his midwifery talents to barns and fields across the country, personally delivering hundreds of new spring lambs over the last eight weeks of the campaign alone.  It is understood that Scott has also been attempting to train up party colleagues to navigate new lambs out of ovine orifices, but without success. We sent our reporter, Ecclefechan Mackay (MA), to investigate this sticky conundrum and the real thinking behind the Liberals' abortive Holyrood campaign...

The central wall in the Liberal Democrat campaign HQ in Edinburgh's Clifton Terrace is dominated by a vast map of Scotland. Key battleground constituencies are picked out in optimistic yellow and incongruously, each is literally covered in clouds of sheep. "They're to remind us how far we've come," an enthusiastic young aide beams proudly,  admiring the cluster of white puffs now dominating the Aberdeen Central constituency. "When we started, this map had less than half this number of sheep on it. It's been hard work, but we're confident that it'll pay off for the Liberal Democrats on the 5th of May".

Explaining the thinking behind the Liberals' unusual tactics, one senior party strategist concedes "our early canvassing returns were dire. We've made no bones about that. Tavish realised we had to change direction, and change quickly.  It was pure luck that we realised early on in the campaign that there was a substantial correlation between the number of sheep in a community - and the likelihood that that constituency will be represented by a Liberal member of parliament. After that, our strategy became crystal clear. Get up those sheep numbers, hold up our vote. The evidence for this flock-to-flock Liberal ratio really is quite compelling." Tavish remains modest about his role: "Really, we began work five months ago, making sure our ewes were well tupped. Labour and the SNP are wasting their time on leaflets, posters, fliers - advertisements in papers. It's all bunk. We're feeling confident that this strategy will pay off."

While the other main political parties have been bussing activists to key constituencies in the last days of the campaign, the Liberals have been coordinating an ambitious strategy of livestock-transfers, moving hundreds of new sheep to the key battleground seats of Argyll and Bute, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire and Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale in the hopes of holding on. "At first we were just slyly adding a few extra sheep to local flocks here and there and tucking one or two tups up the closes in Edinburgh Central and in Aberdeen. Now we have to keep track of dozens of new trailers a day", explains the party's visibly exhausted livestock coordinator and Orkney candidate, Liam McArthur.

However, an outbreak of an infectious sheep-melting disease in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has  seen several flocks destroyed, significantly setting back the local campaign and dispiriting the Liberal Democrat activist base. He told us "I respect Tavish, but this strategy is a black-faced nonsense. There's no way we can get out enough sheep to make enough of a difference here now, I'm afraid. It's too little, too late". Another Highland party worker who did not wish to be named, John Farquhar Munro, 5'7", told the Chronicle, "Tavish's lost it. He's a sheep at the wheel."

Privately, Liberal sources admit they've already given up on winning in Edinburgh North and Leith, their imported livestock either scattering to different constituencies or accidentally drowning in the Firth of Forth. Other senior party figures have also expressed their doubts about their leader's sheepological focus, fearing that it will not resonate with the party's core voters in embattled urban seats. One disgruntled east-coast candidate told the Chronicle: "I've consistently argued that our thinly-stretched Liberal resources could be better deployed by actually speaking to voters, rather than furiously lambing and inseminating sheep. Instead of doorstepping folk in my constituency, I spend my mornings, days and evenings covered in snatch-gunk or wanking rams. To all of this, party HQ has turned a tin ear." Former Liberal MSP, Hugh McDonnell, who is understood to have resigned over the strategy, didn't hesitate to rack Mr Scott's lamb. "I'm astonished Tavish has stuck with this line throughout the campaign. This is just the sort of woolly thinking that got us involved in the coalition in the first place", he said. Independent expert on Scottish elections, Professor Mogg-Tallagher commented, "aren't they just conflating correlation and caution? Christ. Seriously? I'm fooking speechless."

However, the strategy has been well received in some quarters. Independent but absent-minded Galloway-based sheep farmer Ms Bo-Peep endorsed the party yesterday, citing its "sheep-friendly" policies.  Campaigning in the Highlands this morning, Charles Kennedy MP noted the significantly increased quantity of sheep spoor and scraps of wool caught on barbed-wire in vital Liberal constituencies, describing these as a "tribute to the party's shear efforts".  Thanks to their enhanced flocks, he continued "there’s every indication that in the closing stages of the campaign our traditional vote is shoring up in our favour." Tavish Scott similarly brushed off his colleagues' concerns. "We're the only party running a truly grassroots campaign. Don't believe me? Ask the sheep," he said. The campaign continues.

*Mr Mackay wishes me to make clear that the award in question was the "dog that looks most like its owner" competition. Ecclefechan took the first-place rosette at the Kinlochbervie Show in the mid-1990s .


  1. If Tavish the Viking is huntin fir a Golden Fleece he is mixing up his mythological deities.

  2. As a reformed Archers addict, I missed the lambing season but will have to consult Ruth Archer on your bleats and tweets. I thought I had made a real numpty of myself on Andrew Rawnsley's blog yesterday, but when I revisted Mr Gladstone's Midlothian I had your devine rebirthing ceremony in mind. I was not mistaken when I found a REAL Liberal and St Margo canvassing. What was confusing was edinburgh.gov doing one list and midlothian.gov doing the others. For the purposes of this election, I propose calling Tavish MacCleggie and any Scottish Liberal MacTavish after a character in an Evelyn Waugh story. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Waugh-types in the media.

  3. How is he with prolapsed uteris's?

    But E Mackay Esq has knocked Scott from his pedestal.

  4. I've been in Lib Dem HQ, and I've seen what's on the wall. The sheep map would be preferable, believe me:-)

  5. Lord Snooty,

    Given Mr Scott's performance in this week's debates, and his Labourite stooge impression (it sounded like a not-so-veiled plea for a Lib-Lab coalition to me), he's clearly a syncretic fellow. When you get desperate, combining the Æsir and the Hellenic doesn't seem such a unhappy commixture...


    As an ex-ruralite myself, I can assure you all sheep-related details scrupulously researched!


    No doubt Tavish handles his prolapses tenderly but firmly!


    No doubt Ecclefechan got "access all areas" and was able to penetrate the secret inner sanctums of the campaign HQ you may not have been admitted to! Just pull the copy of Jason & the Argonauts on the shelf in the library twice and the secret door will click open, revealing the sheeply scene...

  6. Watched the STV debate last night via the web. Bravo for letting furriners watch and not blocking them a la BBC.

    Tavish was at best patchy and at worst completely lost, firing from the hip, accusing AS of possibly "fixing" (my interpretation) a possible independence referendum and hopelessly out of his depth on Hutton and pensions.

    Ferry boat for Tavish, Baaa!

  7. Lord Snooty,

    I noticed that too. A thoughtful touch, for the Scots diaspora (a number of whom keep a clear interest in Scottish politics - and some even read this blog...)

  8. LPW

    I see that you have attracted Cooncillor Gallacher, such a brave hearted man, into haunting your blog and leaving his poison.

    Maybe he thinks that the kickings he receives elsewhere will not be repeated on your blog. You are sooooo polite.

    I know of a few CyberNats who are, as my downstairs staff inform me, "lookin tae gie him a dooin" and will no doubt catch up with him in due "coarse"

    Meanwhile on Planet Snooty I have just breakfasted this very special day on bacon, sausages and eggs topped with a dollop of HP. Highland Park that is. A Mag of Bollie is awaiting.

    Carry on!

  9. Bollie opened!

  10. Correction Henriot

  11. Correction Henriot