In whose interests is today’s Edinburgh ban on lamppost posters?
I know my local Tory councillor, Gordon Buchan, is a disappointed man. Last year he was part of a monumental effort to help fellow Tory councillor, Jason Rust, unseat Alastair Darling as our local MP – an effort that fell well short. In the Scottish election this year, the Tories’ sole constituency MSP, David McLetchie lost his Pentlands seat and the party only just scraped in a second list MSP in Lothian.
So I realise that Conservative activists, already an endangered species, must be feeling a bit demoralised by now. It must be hard to motivate them to do the hard-slog stuff of politics: delivering ward newsletters out of season, getting involved in community events, knocking on doors and, yes, putting up lamppost posters at election time.
But is that any reason to take a motion to City of Edinburgh Council today seeking to ban lamp-post posters – a motion that was narrowly successful due to the support of the newly-triumphant SNP (who believe so much in Alex Salmond’s sanctity that, presumably, mere postering seems vulgar) and the even-more-deeply beseiged Lib Dems? After all, if Gordon and the Tories believe that lamp-post posters are so ineffective then they are at perfect liberty to stop putting them up. To seek to ban others from doing so smacks of the playground bully taking his ball away because his team is not winning.
Now, I recognise the danger of hyperbole here. The future of our democracy is hardly dependent on lamppost posters. But, as I wrote in my montly “Third Force News” column two years ago, they are the last visible remnant of elections that voters see. Like my SNP-supporting namesake, Gavin Fleming, writing in the Evening News yesterday, I believe that an election without posters is like Christmas without cards. It is a further surrender to politics as an elite sport, dominated by media hype around leaders’ debates. It is the direction of travel that is most worrying here. In Glasgow, where posters have been banned for a few years now, 50% turn-out now seems an aspiration on a far horizon.
Public agency, the Electoral Commission spends a fortune each year on largely unsuccessful efforts to promote elections and here we are banning an activity that is wholly funded by political parties.
And as for the arguments in favour of a ban, these are wholly spurious. The idea that taking down posters costs the City Council money is nonsense. A month after the election there are no more than a tiny number of election posters still up – if the City Council could ensure such a degree of compliance on other forms of fliering it’d be delighted. And the claim that they are environmentally unfriendly: well the Green placards are 8 years and counting – the ultimate recycled resource. Gordon’s ban means that all 3,000 of our re-usable placards will need to be disposed of well before their shelf-life is up.
I’ve been putting posters up on lamp-posts for 20 years and never had one complaint (even from good-natured Hearts supporters watching me put up “Vote Green” posters on Gorgie Road).
Talk of sledgehammers to crack nuts!