A colleague at work asked me today, “Where can I get the contact details of the local candidates for the Scottish Parliamentary Election 2011?”
That’s easy, I thought.
After a couple of hours digging tonight I have worked out that no such list exists. Neither for the whole Scottish election, as I’d expected, nor even at a constituency level.
I’d checked our own website straight off and there, right at the top of the homepage was a nice link off to the elections info page. This is going to be easy…… but, no.
While the information is all there, carefully following the proscribed legal style, what we have is four PDFs: one for each constituency, and one for the regional list. But all they contain is the candidates’ names, sorted by surname ascending and a column labelled “description of candidate”. Actually it doesn’t tell you if they are bald, have acne, are vegetarian or have very large feet – but it does indicate if they are in a political party or are independent.
Other than that there is no means of finding them or asking them a question.
Similarly, each list of candidates is accompanied by a separate PDF called “notice of election agents names.” In each file, there is an introduction in which the returning officer states that she
hereby give[s] notice that the following names and addresses of election agents of candidates at this election and the addresses of the offices or places of such election agents to which all claims, notices, legal process, and other documents addressed to them may be sent, have respectively been declared in writing to me as follows….
While this mentions the candidates names, it appears that each election agent has two addresses, which is explained as “Name and address of Agent” and “Offices of Election Agent to which claims etc may be sent”.
So in all of these documents there is nowhere that an elector can put their finger on an email address, website or postal address for each candidate.
So if an elector wants to ask them all the same question, and judge their responses, as my colleague did, how the heck can he do it?
Some parties have sites, and if you rake around long enough you might get somewhere, I guess. But there are lots of parties, great and small and many independents with, it appears, no websites.
Write to Them is a great site if you want to contact someone after they are elected – but what if you want to suss out their opinions before you put a cross in the box? Writing to then once you’ve elected them might be too late!
Intriguingly the only site who had made a stab at a contact list (PDF alert) was CAMRA! But, the list of candidates is incomplete and not all have contact details.
So, as far as I can see, the only way this will happen is if we crowd-source the scraping of the data.
Who wants to join me?
Update 03 April 2011 : On Friday I started a list for Aberdeen and North East Scotland. I’ve now added the Regional List candidates for NE Scotland.
We now have four volunteers adding data for their area. But we need more. If you’re interested in helping then please leave a comment below. If you know someone else who would assist please let them know about this project.