by Douglas Gregory
A recurring feature of the political discourse in Scotland is a claim by the opposition parties and assorted media commentators that the SNP are a ‘one-man-band’ – that Alex Salmond is the only senior SNP figure with a decent public profile who can be readily recognised by the man on the street. This seems strange. Such assertions ignore the first-rate contributions of the likes of Sturgeon, Swinney and MacAskill in the last four years, most people with an interest in Scottish affairs recognise all three of them. In direct contrast their political competitors are little known. Information uncovered by Newsnet Scotland shows that ‘one-man-band’ claims are patently untrue and that contrary to such suggestions the SNP’s frontline team has a strong public profile and that the Labour Party in Scotland is virtually without a well known face.
Recent polls have reinforced what many of us know. Alex Salmond is a politician without peer, certainly in Scotland and probably in the UK (as evidenced here when Salmond wiped the floor with his heavy hitting Unionist counterparts in a Question Time edition from Liverpool). Opinion polls suggest that the SNP’s positive narrative is resonating with the people of Scotland whilst Labour’s Gray, in a state of perpetual re-invention, flight and hiding, is failing to get his message across and register with the public. Ipsos-Mori spell out in no uncertain terms the public’s attitudes towards Salmond and Gray – clearly people see Gray as an also-ran. Incredibly he is less popular than the Tory Annabel Goldie whose stock has risen considerably in the last few weeks. What of the rest of the rest of the SNP leadership though? The SNP surely need more that one well known face. How do their profiles compare with their competitors?
What do the polls tell us? Not a lot unfortunately, polls tend to concentrate on recognition and attitudes towards party leaders or rather than leaders and we should say ‘group leaders’ like Goldie and Gray. There is however a very trusted statistical resource that can provide us with accurate information on this very subject. Most of you will be familiar with Google but only as a search engine, however any nerd worth his heavy rimmed glasses will tell you that Google has many applications and can provide rich data on many subjects if you know where to look.
Following this link will take you to a Google research tool that is used for researching website content. It works very simply – type into the box the word or phrase you are interested in, select a geographic area* and Google will, instantly, tell you how many searches are performed, in an average month, for that phrase. Google recognises names as search phrases. This tool is a good general indicator of interest in any given subject and as such indicates how well known and recognised politicians are. It also shows other phrases associated with your chosen search. This tool reflects Salmond’s recognition amongst the public compared to other party group leaders:
Total UK Monthly Searches – exact name
Alex Salmond: 8100
Iain Gray: 1900
Annabel Goldie: 1300
Tavish Scott: 720
No surprises there, however searchers commonly misspell politicians names so with this in mind:
Total UK Monthly Searches – broad spellings Gray vs Salmond
Alex Salmond: 8100
Alec Salmond: 8100
Iain Gray: 1900
Iain Grey: 140
Ian Gray: 2400
Ian Grey: 480
It is telling that Alex Salmond has reached such a level of recognition that the use of his second name as a search phrase is far in excess of other versions of his name. It suggests a high degree of familiarity in the same way as the public instantly know who Kennedy, Obama or Thatcher are.
What of the ‘strength and depth’ question though? How do the SNP’s prospective ministers compare to their counterparts ?
Total UK Monthly Searches, exact name SNP top 4 portfolios
Kenny MacAskill: 1600
Mike Russell: 1600
John Swinney: 1300
Nicola Sturgeon: 3600
Total UK Monthly Searches, exact name Labour top 4 portfolios
Richard Baker: 880
Jackie Baillie: 480
Andy Kerr: 176
Des McNulty: 210
These figures are kind to Labour. Both Richard Baker and Andy Kerr have names that are relatively common. The term ‘Richard Baker’ actually had 4400 searches per month but it must be considered that there are many other Richard Bakers as Wikipedia clearly shows. ‘Richard Baker’ also is a chain of furniture stores in Surrey, again skewing the figures (these are UK-wide numbers). Baker and Kerr’s numbers have been adjusted down, using the methodology detailed below. In contrast Jackie Baillie and Des McNulty along with the SNP leaders have unique names. It has to be assumed that searches for their names are for them and not for furniture stores or a 16th century English chronicler as in the case of Baker.
The numbers from Google directly contradict the suggestion from Labour and mainstream media commentators that the SNP is a party with a low profile beyond Salmond. It has to be assumed that when such comments are made they are implying that the SNP’s equivalents do enjoy a high public profile. This has to be the implication of their suggestions. Compare the figures for direct counterparts Sturgeon and Baillie, McNulty and Russell, there is a yawning chasm in their numbers. Numbers are chiels that winna ding.
What about the Tories and Liberals? In the interests of our famous Scottish compassion we might just skip by them, beyond their group leaders there is virtually no public interest in them, the Google querying public search for them less than half the time they do for the Labour group.
Google is a trusted, neutral source of data and its results are unskewed by the bias and interpretation that seems to go hand-in-hand with much political debate and commentary in Scotland. These statistics unambiguously underline that the SNP is no one-man-band. There is genuine strength and depth as illustrated by the above figures. Salmond is a leader of almost iconic status, however it must be a source of comfort to the SNP that when looking at post-Salmond scenarios there are many members in the leadership team acknowledged by the public. In comparison Labour, the Liberals and Tories must be doing some soul searching and wondering why their leaders are failing to resonate with the public.
Andy Kerr and Richard Baker are relatively common names in the UK as opposed to the names of the SNP leadership team studied. Google records search volumes and is obviously unable to distinguish between different Richard Bakers and Andy Kerrs. To distinguish between the different Bakers and Kerrs we established a numerical relationship between searches for ‘Richard Baker’ and ‘Richard Baker MSP’ etc. We contrasted the search volumes for their uniquely named colleagues ‘Jackie Baillie’ and ‘Des McNulty’ and the terms ‘Jackie Baillie MSP’ and ‘Des McNulty MSP’ and from this we extracted that adding the title ‘MSP’ resulted in roughly 1/5 of the search volume of the actual name search volume. Therefore we assigned Richard Baker 880 queries and Andy Kerr 176. There is a degree of conjecture and several different methodologies can be employed to extrapolate a picture of the search volumes intended for the politicians Baker and Kerr. The analysis used was the most generous in favour of Baker in Kerr – in the interests of balance.
*No setting exists for Scotland only search volumes but it is assumed that UK wide queries match the general trends for Scottish searches.