Monday, April 1, 2013

Tavish didn't "save our p'lice" - but did he save Rennie's skin?

This seems almost uncannily topical on the day that the merger of Scotland's police forces finally takes effect, but a YouGov survey of leading political strategists and advertising executives has found that Tavish 'Two Hoots' Scott's famous "save our p'lice" TV ad from the 2011 Holyrood election is held in higher regard than most of us realise -

Top five most effective UK Party Political Broadcasts since 1970 (in reverse order) :

5. "Crisis? What crisis?", Conservatives, 1979

4. "24 hours to save the NHS", Labour, 1997

3. "John Cleese explains proportional representation", SDP, 1987

2. "Labour's Tax Bombshell", Conservatives, 1992

1. "Save our p'lice", Scottish Liberal Democrats, 2011

Yes, I'm way ahead of you here. It does appear, to say the least, somewhat bizarre that a component part of a campaign that saw the Lib Dems' representation slashed by more than two-thirds could be considered the greatest party political broadcast of the last four decades. But in his commentary on the poll findings, our old friend Peter Kellner has an explanation (of sorts) -

"The test of the effectiveness of this broadcast is not how many seats the Scottish Liberal Democrats lost, but how many more seats they would have lost without the brilliance of the "save our p'lice" strategy. Former aides to Mr Scott have privately told me that the party had braced itself for the possibility of being left with only two or three seats after the May 2011 election. It's quite probable that Mr Scott's visionary successor would not have been among the successful candidates in that scenario. The broadcast may not have succeeded in saving Scotland's p'lice, it may not even have saved Mr Scott's own leadership, but by saving the skin of the charismatic Willie Rennie, it might just have helped safeguard the Liberal Democrats' long-term future as one of Scotland's top seven political parties.

Anyone who stumbles upon the broadcast on YouTube today might be slightly bemused to discover the awe in which it is still held by experts. But it has to be seen as very much "of its time". The techniques pioneered by the ad have since been copied so extensively by rivals that, two years on, it's all too easy to forget the extraordinary impact they originally had. The unconvincing siren noises at the beginning and the end, Mr Scott's endless pacing up and down in front of a stationary Lothian and Borders police car, his struggle with the wind as he attempts to keep his dome-shaped Lib Dem "save our p'lice" postcard in an upright position, his sing-song voice as he outlines all the things that he doesn't want to happen to his p'lice (counterpointed by the shocking force with which he delivers the instruction "AND NOR SHOULD YOU"), his determined failure to pronounce the letter 'o' in the word "p'lice" - these are all things of genius. But, if anything, the broadcast is even greater than the sum of its parts. If there was such a thing as an 'X Factor' for party political broadcasts, I suspect Tavish Scott and "save our p'lice" would have been 2011's Christmas No. 1, and deservedly so."


  1. I expect poor Tavish has read and swallowed this without realising the date :-)

  2. Ha ha ha...

    I was almost believing this until they said charismatic and Willie Rennie in the same sentence!