Step 7: Running a campaign
Finally, it's time - you’re standing for election! But, the work is far from over: you've got a campaign to run. This step is a long and arduous one, but hopefully what we've outlined here will help get you started. Thanks to Kerry Buist for preparing the content on Managing your local party and Self-care. For more information, here are some other great resources to check out (though unfortunately not Scotland-specific):
Managing your local party
In many cases, if you’re running on behalf of a political party, local members and activists will have selected you as their candidate. These people normally live in the area you are standing in and will want to help you get elected. The support they offer may be practical, in the form of door knocking or delivering leaflets, or financial.
As you focus on getting elected, managing your relationship with your local party is essential if you are to capitalise on their support. Sometimes, this relationship can break down. In these cases, the only thing that suffers is the electorate, as your time will be consumed trying to resolve internal matters.
With very few exceptions, everyone helping you will be a volunteer. They are there because they want to be there rather than have to. Here are some handy tips for managing your relationship with your local party:
It is easy in the heat of a campaign to forget to say thank you. After each campaign session, email or text everyone to say thank you. At this stage in the campaign, volunteers don’t expect much more as they know you will be busy. At the end of the campaign, win or lose, hold a thank you party for everyone who helps.
Before the start of the regulated campaign write - don’t email - thank you letters to the people who have helped so far and for what they will do over the next few weeks.
Be clear with your helpers about what they can expect from you. If you are not going to campaign on a Monday night as you have to look after your children or have an evening class, just be up front. It will stop miscommunication and help everyone organise their time more effectively.
No matter how great a candidate you are, you are not going to agree with everyone. Don’t take it personally or hold a grudge. Acknowledge that your party is a broad church and agree to disagree on certain issues.
You may not agree with all the policies of your local party. Don’t air any disagreements in public; speak to the leader of the group or whoever else in private about your concerns.
Try and find a mentor, ideally someone who is already elected to where you are seeking election. Not only will they be a valuable source of advice, they will likely have the information you need to reply to issues that are raised on the doorstep.
If you are lucky enough to have access to local party staff, treat them with respect and listen to their advice. They are over undervalued but a hotbed of local information and election expertise.
Network with other candidates as much as you can. You are the only people who have something personally to gain in the campaign, and they will also be your new colleagues when elected.
Make contact with your local MP or MSPs of the same political party. They will often tip you off to community issues or events; some may even invite you to attend events with them.
If you manage a good working relationship with your local party, your life will be a lot easier and allow you to focus on local issues and campaigns. This can be tough at times - and you may need to bite your lip and look at the bigger picture.
Standing for election is both a stressful and brave thing to do, no matter your age or experience. At the end of the day, you are asking people to support you and what you believe in - which can be vulnerable and scary.
Any campaign, whether it’s running for the local council, Scottish Parliament or Westminster, can take its toll on your physical and mental health. It can also affect your relationships with family and friends. Fortunately, you can take steps and make plans to limit this.
To present the best version of yourself, it’s important to make sure you have a good self-care regime in place before you start campaigning. It is also important to remember that every campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, and win or lose you still have to carry on with life after polling day.
Planning the details of your campaign in advance is an important step, but how you will manage your time to meet the demands of your campaign plan is just as important. Otherwise, all you have is a pretty piece of paper.
Your campaign - especially during the month before polling day - will take over most of (if not all) your free time, but it is important that you build in breaks. If not, you can end up making snap decisions that may not be in the best interests of your campaign.
Try and create a simple routine, for example campaign sessions. How many times a day are you able to go out to knock on doors or deliver leaflets? If you have a routine you will be able to encourage more volunteers to come along, and it’s one less thing to worry about. If you decide lying in bed at 8 A.M. one morning that you are going leafleting at 10 A.M., you can’t expect a lot of support from volunteers.
Eat as regularly and healthy as you can. You need to be as alert as possible and you can be walking several miles a day.
If, before the campaign, you have a regular commitment one or two evenings a week - keep it. These small and regular breaks will keep you refreshed and you may be talking to voters you wouldn’t normal meet.
Think about practicalities too. If you are going to be out four evenings a week and a Saturday for four or five weeks, what are you going to eat? Do you need to batch cook? How are you going to do your washing? (During the first General Election I was a constituency agent;I bought enough pants to last the whole campaign, as it was one less thing to worry about).
If you have childcare or other caring responsibilities, do you need to get extra help in to free up your time to meet with voters? There is no one size fits all, but campaigns are physically and emotionally tiring and you will be pulled in different directions, so preparing beforehand will give you additional options.
It is also important to manage the expectations of your family and friends. If you live with other people, they will be falling over boxes of leaflets in your house/flat as you get them counted and out to deliverers. Also, they may not get to spend as much time with you during the campaign.
The most important piece of self-care advice though is to make sure that you have people you can talk to and also that you will listen to. During any campaign, especially as a candidate, you can get caught up in what feel like very important and urgent issues. You need to have someone - who preferably is not involved with the campaign - who can tell you, in the nicest possible way to “get a grip!”
Elections are tough, but if you are brave enough to stand, with a bit of self-care and preparation they can be an amazing experience – whatever the final outcome.
And there you have it - the 7 Steps to Election. For many women, these steps will be far less linear than what we’ve presented here - and for many you’ll go through them more than once. A lost campaign can be the beginning, not the end, of your journey - as the old adage goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” (and maybe again…and again)!
Wherever you’re at in the process, there are people to offer you support and guidance along the way - we’re just one of them. Whatever barriers are thrown your way, hold tight to what and who you’re standing for, reach out for help when you need it, and know that we’ll be here cheering you on from the sidelines every step of the way. Good luck!