Scottish election 2021: After canvassing more than 8,000 people in West Edinburgh, voters seem tired of endless constitutional debate – Alex Cole-Hamilton

If there is an afterlife, then my heaven will have lists of voters and doors to knock. It’s one of my favourite parts about politics.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 4:45 pm

No other political activity gives you a greater insight into what the people you hope to serve in parliament are thinking.

You get a wonderful glimpse into people’s lives and the realisation that the vast, vast majority of people in this country are thoroughly decent and respectful, even if they have no intention of ever voting for you.

I’ve had doors answered to me by people having parties, cramming for exams, or who fully expected me to be someone else, like a repair man or a parcel delivery person.

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The most intense of those cases of mistaken identity were those people I’ve met who were waiting for the midwife, “Hello I’m Alex, just calling to ask about the election,” I’d say. “I’m sorry I’m in Labour,” they’d reply. “Have you thought of voting tactically?” I’d ask, before realising that’s not what they meant…

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Small wonder then that I’d been like a caged tiger since the Christmas lockdown and the hard stop on in-person political campaigning. Every poll for the past year had shown my constituency on a political knife-edge and I was left without the one opportunity I had to do something about it.

The government had set a threshold in Covid infection rates that would allow the restart of canvassing and for a time it looked very probable that this would be an election without any door knocking at all.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie (right) and Alex Cole-Hamilton out campaigning in the 2019 general election (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

But thanks to the vaccine rollout and other public health measures, we made great strides against the virus and we got the green light to get out on the doors the Monday after the Duke of Edinburgh passed away.

I didn’t hang about getting back out there and immediately two things became apparent. Firstly, people are quite comfortable answering the door so long as you maintain social distancing and second, almost everyone is in.

Usually, you’re lucky if a third of the doors you knock are answered, but home working means that your contact rate is much, much better. So, on Monday, three weeks after we started pulling eight-hour daily canvassing shifts, my team and I spoke to our 8,000th person in West Edinburgh. That’s three times the number we spoke to in 2016.

As the polls suggest, the race here is still competitive, but I am encouraged by the shift on the doors we’re seeing, away from independence. People are exhausted, they’re anxious for their families and their careers. Even previously hardened SNP voters are querying the sense in driving for another referendum at a time when we should be focused on the recovery from the pandemic.

People want their parliament to be focused on what matters to them now. They want us to put recovery first and focus on helping school kids to bounce back on all that missed learning, on the climate emergency and on tackling the looming crisis in mental health and hospital waiting times.

Elections should be about a clash of ideas, but for too long in Scotland they’ve been dominated by the constitution. However, the doorstep conversations I’ve been having suggest that may finally be changing.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western

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