Fact check: misleading political party leaflets in Scotland

The 2019 general election has been beset by false and misleading claims.

Many of these have come through the letterboxes of voters in the form of election leaflets, which bombard the public in the weeks and days leading up to polling day.

Ferret Fact Service has rounded up a few of the misleading leaflets which have been sent to voters in Scotland.

Letter from a polling expert

Many voters have reported receiving a letter from “polling and elections expert” Mike Smithson suggesting the Liberal Democrats are close to winning their local seat. This example claims the Edinburgh South constituency is “between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats”. This is not accurate and misleading.

Mike Smithson is a former Lib Dem politician who runs a prominent political betting website.

In 2017, Edinburgh South returned Scotland’s largest majority for Labour’s Ian Murray, who won by more than 15,000 votes over nearest challenger, the SNP. The Liberal Democrats received 1,388 votes, which is just under 25,000 fewer than the winner.

Similar leaflets have been reported for other constituencies where the Liberal Democrats are not close to winning. Mr Smithson himself suggested on his blog that he did “not have a prior view of the list of constituencies” the leaflets were going to.

The only evidence that the leaflet is an election mailout by the Lib Dems is in the small print at the bottom of the page.

Misleading graphs

Edinburgh South has been the source of more than one misleading leaflet during this election. The Conservative candidate’s leaflet featured a graphic intended to how close the Conservatives were to winning in the seat.

However, the graph suggested that the Conservatives were in a close second place behind the SNP, despite Ian Murray winning the seat for Labour in 2017 by a considerable margin. The graph in fact shows how Scots voted overall in Scotland in the 2017 election.

The graph is also incorrectly laid out, showing a far bigger vote share difference between Labour and the Conservatives than the 1.5 points in 2017.

A number of examples of similar misleading graphs have been noted during the election campaign, with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson forced to defend her party’s use of misleading charts.

Green credentials

SNP MEP Alyn Smith is campaigning to be SNP MP in Stirling, but a leaflet was sent out promoting him which appeared similar to the Scottish Greens.

The leaflet, which had a green colour scheme instead of the SNP’s traditional yellow, was highlighting Smith’s green credentials. It suggested he was the vice-president of the European Greens, the coalition of green parties across Europe. This is incorrect. UK membership of the European Greens is taken by the Scottish Greens and the Green Party of England and Wales.

Smith is actually the vice-president of the Greens-European Free Alliance, which is the political group in the European Parliament composed of green and regionalist parties, and contains the European Greens as one of its constituent members.

Conservative or Labour?

Using the colour of a different party is a common misleading tactic used in election leaflets. One example from the 2019 election was sent out supporting the defending former Stirling MP Stephen Kerr.

The leaflet used a red colour scheme associated with Labour and the tagline “Save Scotland, stop the SNP. The main headline of the leaflet is “Labour man backs Kerr” and could give the impression that the Labour Party was backing the Conservative candidate against an SNP challenger.

In fact the text is promoting the support Kerr received from a former local Labour chairperson.

Who can win here?

Political parties love to tell you that they are the only challenger to the winner of the last election. Leaflets for every major party have been guilty of this, such as one of Labour’s leaflets for Edinburgh North and Leith. The seat was won by the SNP last time, with less than a 2,000 seat majority.

According to the latest constituency modelling from YouGov, only a percentage point separates the estimated vote share between Labour and the Conservatives (third place in 2017). As it stands, the two parties could be equally likely to take the seat.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our Facebook group.

Photo thanks to iStock/Scott O’Neill

Good journalism changes things

The Ferret was established in 2015 with a mission to publish fearless, high quality journalism.

Since then thousands of people have joined us. We hope you will too.

We're a cooperative with places reserved for both our writers and subscribers on the board.

We're independently regulated, and work hard to keep our overheads down. This means that all the money we get from our subscribers is invested directly in original public interest news.

We're avowedly non-partisan so we can treat everyone fairly. We don't publish click bait and we don't do favours for political parties or powerful vested interests. We do help to change things.

Or see your other subscription options.

Got a story idea?

Tell us what you'd like us to write about next and vote up the best ideas.